Editorial: How will Angela Smith make her mark?

The new third sector minister is a good choice at a difficult time for the Government, writes Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor, Third Sector
Stephen Cook, editor, Third Sector

Angela Smith started life in three rooms above a shop in Hackney and is now Minister for the Third Sector in a fine office overlooking Horse Guards Parade.

There might not be enough social mobility in the UK, as Alan Milburn MP argued in his report on access to the professions last month, but Smith is living proof that some of it is going on.

She's also a woman in the Gordon Brown government. When Caroline Flint MP resigned as Europe minister in June, she complained bitterly that he used them as "window dressing" and excluded them from his inner circle. But two years ago he chose Smith to be his parliamentary private secretary - his "eyes and ears" in the Commons, as she once put it - and two months ago he raised the third sector job to minister of state level and asked her to take it.

Whatever you make of the Flint thesis, Smith seems a good choice for the job at a time when high fliers are in short supply in the Parliamentary Labour Party. She's steeped in the voluntary sector and the associated community values that governments ache to understand and foster. She knows from her experience as a councillor that the wellbeing of the sector depends crucially on its relationship with local government. And her style seems straightforward and accessible - see our profile of her on the next page.

But how much scope is there for her to really make an impression? This is a tired government, bound by the recession and seemingly powerless to prevent itself being shoved inexorably towards the exit, whatever the merits of its case. Smith will do well if, between now and next May, she keeps the creditable initiatives of the 2007 third sector review on course, continues to champion the sector across Whitehall and maintains the momentum of the £40.5m recession action plan. If her influence with the PM were to secure more money for the plan, that would of course be a bonus.

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