Editorial: Ministers may be flexible after all

The Office for Civil Society's decision to give project funding to organisations axed from its strategic partners programme sends out an important message to the sector, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

One of the hallmarks of the current government, mentioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his critique last week, is a determination to force its policies through, come what may. One political joke that is doing the rounds says that plan B is the same as plan A, especially when it comes to anything to do with the economy and reducing the deficit.

So it's welcome news that the Office for Civil Society has, in one respect at least, shown itself to be flexible. In its radical pruning earlier this year of its strategic partners programme, organisations representing ethnic and other minorities were pushed out into the cold, as were most community organisations. Ministers were urged by the sector, including some of the more influential strategic partners working behind the scenes, to think again. It's clear that they have, and it emerged last week that Voice4Change England and Community Matters are going to receive some government funding after all. Other organisations that were excluded in April might yet receive similar funding as well.

It's not a huge victory. Both organisations will receive one-year funding for specific projects rather than being restored as members of the strategic partners programme proper; perhaps that's the fig leaf ministers need to protect themselves from knee-jerk accusations about U-turns. The sums involved have not been specified yet, but they're unlikely to be large. The money, like the strategic partners funding itself, will be tied to pursuit of the government's policy agenda in a way that is likely to raise questions about independent action.

But the move sends out an important message that the OCS is prepared, after all, to help black and ethnic minority organisations, as represented by Voice4Change England, to maintain a voice in the policy debate. It also gives the two organisations a breathing space and an opportunity to find alternative ways of sustaining themselves in the future, when it's clear that government funding is not going to flow freely and the strategic partners programme itself will be wound up in 2014.

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