Volunteer movement facing uncertain future

Sweden's defence volunteers face financially tough times ahead after the report of the government inquiry into voluntary organisations in the field of defence is published on 31st October."The state isn't interested in keeping all 19 organisations afloat just for the sake of it. They must be engaged in the right activities", says Björn Körlof, the man responsible for the review.Others argue that a large single voluntary organisation is the only solution.

Leif Tyrén.

"Being effectively prepared requires a strategy for managing crisis situations. The terrorist threat is global, which means that cross-border co-operation is becoming increasingly important."

The voluntary defence organisations have struggled with falling membership for a number of years. Furthermore, they can be considered to be out of step with the Armed Forces' new role. The transition to a focus on international operations from the earlier priority of territorial defence has seen demand for the voluntary organisations' services drop.
The problem is that the many of the voluntary organisations have not adapted to new times and retain a focus on the Armed Forces requirements under the previous policy of a primarily territorial defence. A number of government inquiries have attempted to unravel this particular knot without too much in the way of success. The only reform that has been implemented, the introduction of a form of public funding, is widely seen to be a failure.
As a result, it is no easy task that has been entrusted to the one man committee of inquiry, in the shape of Björn Körlof. He is due to present his finding on the 31st October, including proposals regarding the future of the voluntary defence sector: its focus and the role it is to be given within the total defence and the management of civil emergencies. It is already clear that there will be changes in the system of financing.

No approved list

General grants will disappear over time, to be replaced by a system of payment by task. Although some form of minimum allowance is under discussion.
"We are also considering abolishing the list of those organisations counted as part of the voluntary defence sector. Public authorities and agencies can then buy in activities from whomsoever they wish", Björn Körlof adds.
Only a few of the organisations, that, for example, offer training in armed combat or are involved in flying or fire fighting, are going to be regulated in any way.
So that the voluntary organisations do not that the rug has been pulled from under their feet, Björn Körlof proposes that the government appoints a "special envoy". Someone who can assist in efforts to adapt activities, for those organisations that wish it, during a transitionary period.
"It's a harsh reality that many organisations will be placed under immense financial pressure", Björn Körlof remarks.

Lawyers and interpreters

There is a need for volunteers with expertise in such areas as international law, IT and computer technicians and interpreters in, for instance, arabic. These needs are not currently met, but it all adds up to a maximum of only 150 people
The much discussed reduction of the Home Guard by half will not, however, be carried out, according to those reports that emerged from the government at the time of the recent announcement, by Minister of Defence, delaying the timetable regarding the parliamentary handling of defence policy. The Home Guard is a priority, but it is difficult to estimate how many volunteers will be required, Björn Körlof, who is awaiting more information from the Armed Forces, admits

Useful for the Navy

The voluntary organisations have played an important de facto role in recruiting interested young people, many a Colonel of the Armed Forces started out as a volunteer. The Navy especially has been greatly assisted - a third of those attending the Navy's professional officer's training were active in the sea cadets.
"Voluntarism is on a steep decline. If we don't do something soon the rot will take hold", remarks Leif Tyrén, general secretary of the Swedish Federation for Voluntary Defence Education and Training.
The Swedish Federation for Voluntary Defence Education and Training, which is the largest of the voluntary organisations with a purely military focus, has recently conducted a pair of comprehensive inquiries and has come to the conclusion that the future of the voluntary defence sector lies in creating a single umbrella organisation. The preference is for the other organisations to agree to merge with the Swedish Federation for Voluntary Defence Education and Training, which already operates with a number of separate sections, in areas such such as field entertainment and crisis communications.
"It works really well. Unfortunately, some would rather go under than see the end of an organisation with a long tradition. But if you ask the members you'll find that such organisational issues aren't important, that's not why people join", says Leif Tyrén.
"Ultimately, its about making sure that the voluntary spirit survives, otherwise people will just go out and play golf or go fishing or do something else instead", Leif Tyrén adds.