Charities are key to social change, says new third sector minister

Charities and campaigners are key partners in government plans to transform society and its citizens, according to Phil Hope, the incoming third sector minister.

Hope admitted he was updating his “slightly 1990s view of the sector” to incorporate its decade of expansion under Labour and declared his confidence in its future. He also suggested business could be a far greater funder of charities.

“You can go, and are going, where government cannot go,” Hope told the NCVO and Carnegie UK Third Sector Foresight conference on the future of civil society in London yesterday, his first official engagement in his new post. “We cannot do what we want to do in transforming lives without partnership with the sector. Social change and putting civil society at the heart of government is what we are all about.”

Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, wants a one-to-one engagement to empower people, said Hope. Between the third sector and the government he said: “There is a shared agenda, a shared vision, a shared mission – it is about changing society.” Hope added that Labour’s third and potentially fourth terms in office would involve “people changes”, altering attitudes and behaviour, and enhancing social networks and social capital.

Hope, who is also MP for Corby and East Northamptonshire, said a key part of his role is as a “persuader, especially with ministerial colleagues” in helping those working at civil society’s front line. “My job is to listen and learn from you,” he said.

The minister said he was also keen on engaging with the “nitty-gritty stuff”, from the third sector review coming out later this month and ensuring that the £80m small grants fund reached the very smallest groups.

He added that the sector had a “crucial campaigning role”, and groups “should not be worried about campaigning if they are getting a grant or a contract”.

Hope was particularly interested in the links between civil society and business, including finding new funding for the third sector. “I think there is a stack of money out there in the investment community,” he said.

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