Newsmaker: Young Nick - Nick Aldridge, Acevo

John Plummer

Nick Aldridge Director of strategy and communications, Acevo - Driving the voluntary sector towards more public service delivery.

Nick Aldridge is so young his salmon pink shirt looks colour co-ordinated with his cheeks. But although he is only 26, he is one of the most senior figures in the voluntary sector - and one of its strongest advocates in Westminster and the media.

Judging by how few talented young people are at the top of the sector, it seems it is suspicious of them, so you wonder how Aldridge manages it. "The voluntary sector's age profile isn't diverse, certainly among leaders," he says. "When I first joined, it was more difficult to talk to such people on their level."

Politicians, however, accepted his youth more easily. "Ministers and permanent secretaries find it refreshing to see someone coming in who is a bit younger than the people they normally talk to," he says.

When he graduated from Cambridge University with a first class degree in philosophy barely five years ago, he hadn't even considered a career in the voluntary sector. "The civil service was an obvious option for an Oxbridge arts student not really qualified to do anything else," he jokes.

He was working at the Whitehall and Industry Group, which fosters links between government and business, when he hopped sectors. "Acevo was the only third-sector member," he says. "After the Strategy Unit report, the Government set out a bold vision for the sector - it seemed like a good time to join."

Intelligent and unflappable, he wasted little time in rising to second-in-command to Stephen Bubb. "I've learned a lot from him about the importance of being out there and being seen," he says. "Networking is his strength; I'm more patient. I like to consult and get a range of views."

Behind the blue eyes and easy charm are controversial views. His book Communities in Control, which was published last week, drew criticism for the strength of its support for charities delivering public services.

It calls for huge swathes of the state, such as prisons and employment training, to be transferred to charity control. NCVO chief executive Stuart Etherington warned that such a move could "warp public perception of the sector's role" and embroil charities in the same problems faced by the state.

Aldridge agrees that charities should deliver services only when it is right for them to do so, but adds: "If we are negative and focus too much on the concerns, we cancel out the message that this is an exciting, dynamic sector."

He thinks charities have an unprecedented opportunity. "The Government has committed itself to working more with us," he says. "If we wait for contracts to sort themselves out and refuse to talk about the sector's potential until they are, we will be waiting for a long time.

"The Government knows our contracts are rubbish. They were rubbish in the private sector 20 years ago, but now they are very good."

The autumn party conferences present his next chance to bend ears. "Ministers such as David Miliband, Hazel Blears and Charles Clarke are getting excited," he says. "We have to channel the attention into funding reform." After that, he travels to India in October, to marry a doctor whose family originates from the sub-continent.

Aldridge doesn't regret his career sidestep. "I find the people in the sector more interesting," he says. "One minute you're talking to the Hare Krishna Society, the next you're talking to Turning Point."

But a senior civil service position could lure him away. "At that level, it's a very interesting job," he says. "I wouldn't like to spend the rest of my life in government, but I'd like to experience it for a while." Given his rate of progress, don't be surprised if he's cabinet secretary by the age of 30.

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