Focus: Policy and Politics - Analysis - Second thoughts on the third sector office

Nathalie Thomas

The news that Tony Blair has set up a government office that is dedicated solely to the affairs of the third sector sent a flurry of excitement through charities.

It appeared that finally the voluntary sector was being made a priority by being taken out of the Home Office, which many felt was too busy working on the crime and justice agenda, and located in the Cabinet Office.

But after the initial celebrations died down and the umbrella bodies finished patting themselves on the back for proposing the move, questions started to emerge over whether this was really the big bang everyone thought it was.

Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change, was among the first to ask if Ed Miliband, the new third sector minister in the Cabinet Office, was really any different from those who had gone before.

"In the five years I've been at the DSC, we've had Lord Filkin, Fiona Mactaggart and Paul Goggins," she said. "Miliband won't last long."

Confusion has arisen over how Miliband's office will tie in with the new Department for Communities and Local Government under Ruth Kelly.

Miliband has said he offers a "co-ordinated, cross-government approach", but with insiders already hinting that the Home Office Active Communities Directorate could be split between several departments, this seems as difficult as ever.

However, even if the directorate is divided up between the third sector office, the DCLG and the Treasury, this could still be a step forward, said Nick Aldridge, director of strategy and communications at Acevo.

"Now we will have only three departments that need to be joined up to represent the sector, rather than four," he said.

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, also sees the move to the Cabinet Office, which lies at the centre of decision-making, as progress.

"Another good thing is that Miliband is going to have a foot in both camps," he said. "He's close to Gordon Brown and he is going to be close to the Prime Minister in Number 10. That leaves the sector in a great position."

But Allcock Tyler was sceptical. "Most of the problems are not at ministerial level anyway," she said. "They're much further down the line."

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