Editorial: Now's the time for some consolidation

The events of the past week, culminating in the special Labour conference last weekend, have made it quite clear that we are about to experience a different kind of government.

By the coming weekend we should know who will be in the Brown cabinet, and a few days after that the junior ministers will be in place as well. Among the latter is likely to be a replacement for Ed Miliband, who seems almost certain to be moving on to a more senior job after his creditable first year in the Government. What does this all mean for the Office of the Third Sector?

The office came into being a year ago as charities and the voluntary sector basked in the sunlight of political attention as rarely before. The attention had a special quality because there was little discernible disagreement between Blair and Brown over a better deal and a wider role for the sector, although there have been suggestions that Brown is likely to be slightly less eager for public services to be carried out by the voluntary sector. There was no dissent in principle from the Conservatives either, although their still-evolving concept of the sector's role and importance seems, as we might one day discover, to have different emphases from those of Labour.

During that year, the developments and initiatives have come thick and fast. The 55-strong office has been reorganised, with a new emphasis on fostering social enterprise and better relationships between the public sector, in all its forms, and the voluntary sector. There's a review in hand of the role of the sector, and last week saw the beginning of the Treasury-led Gift Aid review, which could be a golden opportunity. There's so much work in progress that you quickly run out of space to list it.

Perhaps what's most needed now is a period of consolidation. Ed Miliband joked in his early days that he hadn't made a single initiative, but before long there was a bout of initiative-itis that would have done credit to the Blair sofa. Fortunately, many of these initiatives were good, including third sector training for service commissioners in the public sector and the new programme of small grants.

All new ministers like to make their mark, but Miliband's successor might be wise to spend a while seeing through the business that's already in hand. Too much new activity could detract from the essential task of making sure that the Office of the Third Sector becomes an established and influential part of the machinery of government, with a role that is undisputed even when the sunlight of political attention moves elsewhere.

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