Nearly 3,000 council staff are being offered three days off work a year, fully paid, to do voluntary work in the community.

Lambeth Council said local groups and organisations would benefit, but critics said staff should volunteer in their own time.

The scheme, which could create almost 9,000 days of volunteering, would allow registered groups or voluntary organisation to invite council employees to work on local projects - such as play schemes, repainting youth clubs, serving food at pensioners’ lunch clubs, or planting community gardens.

Councillor Steve Reed, leader of Lambeth Council, said: “Community groups do fantastic work right across Lambeth, but they often tell me they could do even more if they had more volunteers.

"At the same time, people sometimes tell me the council can feel remote from the local community.

"I think it’s a great idea to get the council’s employees out of the town hall and into the community so they can hear directly from residents what problems they are facing and then give their time to help fix them.

"This will be good for our community and good for our employees, and it’s a real example of the cooperative council in action."

   The move would not affect frontline services, a council spokesman said, and allow staff to get “a better idea of the issues facing Lambeth residents in their daily lives”.

But Jeremy Clyne, Liberal Democrat Councillor for Streatham Hill, said “shouldn’t they [employees] be doing that already, it’s part of their job”.

He said: “This is hardly volunteering - staff who put themselves forward will be doing it in their paid work time.

“It sounds like a desperate to spark enthusiasm about Labour’s Coop Council. A lot of staff appear to be sceptical and unconvinced about the whole project.”

But Councillor John Whelan, the Conservative group leader in Lambeth, said the scheme was a good move.

He said: “Our streetcare contractor Veolia already does this and hopefully more of our suppliers will do so as well."