A COUNCIL which has built a 6,300-member army of volunteers to ensure key and popular services are maintained in the face of dwindling Government funding is set to set out its approach and commitment to unpaid helpers.

The strategic move comes more than five years after North Yorkshire County Council unveiled a vision to galvanise communities to help it deliver services, ahead of staffing and budget cuts.

The authority’s executive member for Stronger Communities, Councillor David Chance said it had become clear that setting out clear policies on operational issues such as expenses and training was essential to ensure volunteers were correctly valued and fairly supported.

Last year, home library service volunteers delivered more than 50,000 items to 14,000 people who can not get to a library and 98 countryside volunteers spent 1,322 hours maintaining public rights of way.

Other voluntary roles range from teaching assistants for Syrian refugees to  gardening and conservation activities.

The council also promotes and supports volunteering more generally in the county through its Stronger Communities programme and by co-funding the Volunteering in North Yorkshire service.

Cllr Chance said: “We have got volunteers who help us in all areas of the county council. We recognise the help they give us and I am astounded by the amount of commitment we get from volunteers.

“Our approach to volunteering has been haphazard in the past, so we are looking to make it fair and uniform across the county.”

While the strategy, which is set to be ratified by the council’s executive next week, is aimed at volunteers that are managed directly by the council, but recognises there are also many volunteers, managed by other organisations, who also contribute to its services. The council will encourage the other organisations to adopt and implement similar practice.  

Cllr Chance said while there were some areas with larger numbers of volunteers, there was also a good spread across all communities. He highlighted the council’s 338 Ready for Anything volunteers, meaning there are helpers on the ground for emergencies such as the recent flooding in the Yorkshire Dales.

The drive for volunteers has benefited from the county’s ageing population - the proportion of the population aged 65 and over rose from 20.7 per cent in 2011 to 23.3 per cent in 2015. Some previously council-run services are almost entirely staffed by retired people, leading to future staffing concerns if fewer people are able to retire early.

Cllr Chance said: “At the moment there is no sign of us having a problem. Continuity planning is something we are very conscious of.”