Government policy: Champions League

The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills is the latest to draw up a formal third sector strategy. Paul Jump reports on the relationships of other government departments and public bodies with the sector and asks if they are improving.

Last month's announcement by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills that it intends to draw up a formal third sector strategy was met with ringing endorsement from the Office of the Third Sector (23 July, page 5).

The OTS said now would be an appropriate time for other departments, especially newly established ones, to review their sector strategies. The Government is at the beginning of the 2008-11 spending period, with a new set of public service agreements and a new local government performance framework in place. Departments were also consulted over last year's Third Sector Review.

Relations between the sector and government departments and public bodies have not always been easy. Perhaps the most notorious point of friction was what the NCVO called the Learning and Skills Council's "pernicious, draconian and bullying" pursuit last year of a tiny voluntary organisation, Kids in Communication, for its breach of a £119,000 contract.

There was also uproar last September when only one charity - the Shaw Trust - won contracts in the initial round of the Department for Work and Pensions' Pathways to Work programme. In March came the Ministry of Justice decision to drop its 10 per cent target for voluntary sector involvement in delivering probation services for the National Offender Management Service.

But there are signs that the tide is turning. Our inquiries suggest that even the most criticised departments are making efforts to change. All the departments and public bodies we surveyed have third sector champions and a protocol for dealing with the sector. The hope must be that the requirement from this autumn for departments to report to the OTS on their progress in implementing three-year funding for the sector will concentrate minds on that cherished goal of the sector: formal, all-encompassing third sector strategies.

INTERVIEW - DAVID ROSSINGTON

David Rossington has been the third sector champion at CLG only since April, so it could be argued that he is still in his honeymoon period. The enthusiasm he wears on his sleeve for the role is distinctly at odds with his profession's grey-suited reputation.

However, he still makes good use of some of the vocabulary of the traditional mandarin, referring frequently to the "inescapable logic" of a department with a remit to build "cohesive, empowered and active" communities and to engage seriously with voluntary organisations. "If your main business is to deliver that output, you are bound to think about the potential of the sector," he says. "It is an inescapable business driver."

Rossington also enthusiastically endorses the departmental reorganisation that tossed the role of third sector champion into his lap: the movement of CLG's third sector team into his local democracy and community empowerment department. "It made huge sense because there were lots of links already," he says. "If you want to improve communities, you have to work with community organisations all the time."

He says there has been a drive from both ministers and senior officials at CLG to engage more thoroughly with the sector, but admits the department did not always give community organisations the attention they merited. "The logic has always been there, but it wasn't recognised as clearly as it is now," he says. "We now work closely with the OTS and have a very similar perspective."

There is more inescapable logic to be found, according to Rossington, in the case for full cost recovery and security of funding in both contracts and grants. "I'm a great supporter of three-year funding," he says.

Rossington says CLG has made good progress recently in its relationship with the sector. He cites the department's social enterprise unit, the voluntary sector representative - former Mencap chief executive Dame Jo Williams - on its non-executive management board and the £70m Communitybuilders fund announced in its Communities in Control white paper. He also talks up CLG's Third Sector Partnership Board, which gives the sector a role in formulating CLG strategy.

"I'm really pleased to be doing this," he says. "I've been very impressed by the energy, commitment and enthusiasm of the people from the sector I've met so far. Their blend of idealism and pragmatism is exactly what we need."

- DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH

WHAT IS THE DEPARTMENT'S REMIT?

To improve the health and wellbeing of people in England.

WHAT DOES IT DO WITH THE SECTOR?

Supports the development of social enterprises by Primary Care Trusts and awards contracts to provide services for up to three years. Consulted more than 450 organisations last winter to transform current funding into "a strategic portfolio of investment".

DOES THE DEPARTMENT HAVE A THIRD SECTOR POLICY?

No. But it introduced a third sector and social enterprise programme in 2007 to oversee work that either directly involves or has implications for the sector.

WHAT DOES ITS POLICY SAY ABOUT THE SECTOR?

"DoH is considering how all its activity with the sector can be brought together into a single strategy."

WHO IS THE DEPARTMENT'S THIRD SECTOR CHAMPION?

Mark Davies, director of partnership, experience and involvement. A career civil servant with no other links to the sector.

ARE THERE ANY SECTOR-RELATED CONSULTATIONS?

'Towards a strategy to support volunteering in health and social care' closes at the end of September.

- DEPARTMENT OF WORK AND PENSIONS

WHAT IS THE DEPARTMENT'S REMIT?

Employment, pensions and welfare policy. It also aims to end child poverty by 2020.

WHAT DOES IT DO WITH THE SECTOR?

Third sector organisations are contracted to deliver some welfare-to-work programmes, such as Pathways to Work. Smaller providers are encouraged to bid in consortia or as subcontractors. Non-contractual arrangements are common for advice and support services.

DOES THE DEPARTMENT HAVE A THIRD SECTOR POLICY?

No, but it has a commissioning strategy "in response to previous problems". Prime contractors work with specialist providers such as voluntary organisations. It says it will not favour one sector over another.

WHAT DOES ITS POLICY SAY ABOUT THE SECTOR?

DWP "endeavours to follow the principles of the Compact".

WHO IS THE DEPARTMENT'S THIRD SECTOR CHAMPION?

Alan Cave, delivery director for the welfare, work and equality group. Cave joined in 2007 from the Work Foundation. He has also worked for the TUC and the GMB trade union.

ARE THERE ANY SECTOR-RELATED CONSULTATIONS?

'No one written off', about welfare reform, closes in October.

- BUSINESS ENTERPRISE AND REGULATORY REFORM

WHAT IS THE DEPARTMENT'S REMIT?

Aims to promote business success and improve productivity. Supports British companies overseas and attracts foreign investment.

WHAT DOES IT DO WITH THE SECTOR?

With the Treasury, it published the Government's enterprise strategy, which promotes social enterprise and includes substantial funding, in March. Commissions services from the sector such as advice on debt, fuel poverty and illegal money-lending.

DOES THE DEPARTMENT HAVE A THIRD SECTOR POLICY?

A 2004 policy developed by its predecessor, the Department of Trade and Industry, is currently being "refreshed".

WHAT DOES ITS POLICY SAY ABOUT THE SECTOR?

"Social enterprises are innovative in tackling some of the most entrenched social and environmental challenges."

WHO IS THE DEPARTMENT'S THIRD SECTOR CHAMPION?

Philippa Lloyd, director of regions and support.

ARE THERE ANY SECTOR-RELATED CONSULTATIONS?

Consultations on several subjects, including a renewable energy strategy and EU proposals for regulating electronic communications networks.

- HM TREASURY

WHAT IS THE DEPARTMENT'S REMIT?

Formulates and implements the Government's financial and economic policy.

WHAT DOES IT DO WITH THE SECTOR?

Gives grants through the Invest to Save budget, which promotes innovation in public service delivery. Aims to ensure "efficiency and effectiveness of expenditure on the third sector". Coordinates relevant tax policy, such as Gift Aid and Community Investment Tax Relief.

DOES THE DEPARTMENT HAVE A THIRD SECTOR POLICY?

With the Office of the Third Sector, it produced The Future Role of the Third Sector in Social and Economic Regeneration, which sets out the Government's strategy for the sector from 2008 to 2011.

WHAT DOES ITS POLICY SAY ABOUT THE SECTOR?

"The review identified four key areas of common interest between the sector and government: campaigning, strengthening communities, transforming public services and social enterprise."

WHO IS THE DEPARTMENT'S THIRD SECTOR CHAMPION?

James Paton, head of the housing and regeneration team, "takes the lead", but the position of champion is currently vacant.

ARE THERE ANY SECTOR-RELATED CONSULTATIONS?

None at present. The Treasury concluded its consultation on Gift Aid earlier this year.

- MINISTRY OF JUSTICE

WHAT IS THE DEPARTMENT'S REMIT?

Strengthening democracy, rights and responsibilities; protecting the public and reducing re-offending; "delivering fair and simple routes to justice".

WHAT DOES IT DO WITH THE SECTOR?

Has contracts with organisations such as Citizens Advice to deliver legal aid services. The National Offender Management Service commissions some sector services to reduce re-offending.

DOES THE DEPARTMENT HAVE A THIRD SECTOR POLICY?

A strategy was published for consultation in December 2007 and finalised in June 2008.

WHAT DOES ITS POLICY SAY ABOUT THE SECTOR?

"The department is committed to the Compact, including the use of three-year funding and longer-term contracts where appropriate."

WHO IS THE DEPARTMENT'S THIRD SECTOR CHAMPION?

Amanda Finlay, third sector champion and director of legal services strategy. Finlay led work to implement the Human Rights Act 1998 in the Lord Chancellor's Department and the courts.

ARE THERE ANY SECTOR-RELATED CONSULTATIONS?

None currently running. A Noms paper, Working with the Third Sector to Reduce Re-offending 2008-2011, will be published in October.

- LEARNING SKILLS COUNCIL

WHAT IS THE DEPARTMENT'S REMIT?

The Learning and Skills Council oversees England's further education and training sectors.

WHAT DOES IT DO WITH THE SECTOR?

Commissions learning and skills services and draws on sector expertise, particularly in relation to disadvantaged learners. Funds more than 500 sector providers and £750m of work. Hundreds of sub-contracting arrangements between lead providers and the sector.

DOES THE DEPARTMENT HAVE A THIRD SECTOR POLICY?

Yes: the Working Together strategy of 2004.

WHAT DOES ITS POLICY SAY ABOUT THE SECTOR?

"The voluntary and community sector is vital to the LSC's mission. The knowledge, creativity and sensitivity it can bring to the widening participation agenda in particular is enormously valuable."

WHO IS THE DEPARTMENT'S THIRD SECTOR CHAMPION?

There are two - Margaret Coleman and Cheryl Turner - plus nine regional champions. Coleman previously worked for Relate. She is also a volunteer for a contact centre and a trustee of a community building group.

ARE THERE ANY SECTOR-RELATED CONSULTATIONS?

None at present.

- MINISTRY OF DEFENCE

WHAT IS THE DEPARTMENT'S REMIT?

The country's military headquarters. Has political control of all military operations and oversees all armed forces policy.

WHAT DOES IT DO WITH THE SECTOR?

Contracts and consults with the sector "as a matter of routine" on services for personnel and veterans. Works with charities and CLG on services such as housing for veterans, and their employment and mental health.

DOES THE DEPARTMENT HAVE A THIRD SECTOR POLICY?

Has a policy for veterans organisations and has begun work on a strategy for sector relations. A 2008 report suggested ways of working with the sector, and a network of "business-area representatives" is planned.

WHAT DOES ITS POLICY SAY ABOUT THE SECTOR?

"The policy is to engage fully with third sector organisations to understand where there is the potential for them to contribute to policy formulation or to the delivery of defence capability."

WHO IS THE DEPARTMENT'S THIRD SECTOR CHAMPION?

Major General Matthew Sykes, defence services secretary.

ARE THERE ANY SECTOR-RELATED CONSULTATIONS?

No general consultations. Individual organisations and relevant umbrella groups are consulted as part of everyday policy work.

- DEPARTMENT FOR ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS

WHAT IS THE DEPARTMENT'S REMIT?

"Securing a healthy, resilient, productive and diverse natural environment." Tackling climate change.

WHAT DOES IT DO WITH THE SECTOR?

Says the sector will help to deliver future policies, such as improving public services, strengthening rural communities and promoting greener lifestyles. Stakeholders include voluntary groups, NGOs and social enterprises.

DOES THE DEPARTMENT HAVE A THIRD SECTOR POLICY?

Has published a Compact Action Plan and Social Enterprise Position Statement. A formal strategy will be published in the autumn.

WHAT DOES ITS POLICY SAY ABOUT THE SECTOR?

"The department is exploring mainstreaming the Compact into all areas of Defra activities and creating a level playing field for the third sector in day-to-day business."

WHO IS THE DEPARTMENT'S THIRD SECTOR CHAMPION?

Jill Rutter, director of the strategy and sustainable development directorate. Rutter previously worked on tobacco control policy for the Advocacy Institute in Washington. She was briefly on the board of UK Action on Smoking and Health, and has close links to Common Purpose.

ARE THERE ANY SECTOR-RELATED CONSULTATIONS?

None at present. A formal consultation on a Defra third sector strategy ended in February.

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