Editorial: Half-term leaves us with much to ponder

Stephen Cook, editor

As MPs disperse tomorrow for a 10-day Whitsun break, what is the voluntary sector to make of the political landscape, where the dust is settling from recent eruptions? There are some promising aspects, but there is so much uncertainty and volatility in the general situation that it's by no means sure there will be real progress.

Overshadowing everything is the problem of the succession. We now have a lame duck Prime Minister trying to prove otherwise with one ill-judged intervention after another. While he clings on, it will be difficult for anyone in government to get on with what's needed most, which is an end to initiatives and a bit of orderly progress with matters already in hand.

On 6 June, the day after Parliament returns, the Cabinet Secretary is to host a summit that the Prime Minister promised after voluntary sector leaders visited Downing Street earlier in the year. Preparation for that has been hurriedly handed from Hazel Blears, who was looking after it at the Home Office, to Ed Miliband, the new minister for the third sector in the Cabinet Office.

Given the circumstances, it might be rash to expect too much of this event, when the fundamental question is whether and, if so, how the machinery of government can be brought to implement the pledges on fair contracts, full cost recovery and related matters that ministers, including Blair himself, have repeatedly made.

The hope is that Miliband's writ can be made to run across Whitehall, so the next time the Department of Health needs to trim its budget and swivels its beady eyes onto Section 64 grants, it will pause and say "hang on - if we even think about that we'll have Big Ed on our back". The Cabinet Office is, after all, a small but influential department, close to both Number 10 and the Treasury. But the fear is that the DoH and - perhaps more crucially - the Department for Communities and Local Government will carry on pretty much as before. Whitehall ministries are, after all, notoriously boundary-conscious and reluctant to take directions from junior ministers in other departments.

And what of the Charities Bill? The Education Bill should be completed this week, so when MPs return there would seem to be little excuse for not getting on with it. That would be a powerful sign of real commitment by the Government to the sector's interests, and the charitable status of public schools could be sorted out once and for all.

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