By Max Clarke

BT and KPMG today joined the Government in leading the way to get more professionals using their skills to support charities and voluntary groups as part of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ initiative.

The businesses welcomed the first ever cross Civil Service volunteering initiative that will encourage hundreds of thousands of professionals to volunteer at least one day each year which was announced today by Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude.

The 'Big Society' concept was launched by David Cameron as a means os shrinking the state by encouraging more volunteering, charity work and private to replace certain state provided services. The move has faced criticism, being labelled simply as an excuse for deep spending cuts, and Rachael Maskell, national officer for the community and not-for-profit sector, said:

”David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ is an intellectually flawed creed that harks back to a vision of 1950s Britain that never existed. We have been down this road before when John Major had a similar pipe dream of an idyllic Britain of 60 years ago.

Under the new initiative senior civil servants will be expected to encourage volunteering and charities will be invited to directly request specific help when they need it. The Civil Service has committed to giving 30,000 volunteering days a year.

Sir Gus O’Donnell, Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service, today became head of the ‘Civic Service’ as he volunteered to help with training and advice for ex-offenders at St Giles Trust, a charity in Camberwell, south London. Sir Gus said:

“The Civil Service has many talented people who can help to build a strong civic society by using their skills as well as interests to support charities and voluntary groups. And for us, it is a chance to further develop our skills and better understand other sectors. Allowing employees one day a year to volunteer is a realistic commitment that I expect to be widely used.

“It is always humbling to see, first hand, the difference charities like St Giles Trust is making — despite the challenges they face. In extremely difficult circumstances they are making a real difference to the lives of people in London.

“As an economist and a supporter of volunteering, it is also hugely rewarding to see the ‘dynamite’ work that Pro Bono Economics has done in working with St Giles to provide the information that they need to show their real and measurable effectiveness. I am impressed that their clients have a 40% lower re-offending rate against the national average.