Sketch: A first outing

Third sector minister Kevin Brennan takes time out with a Brixton youth organisation

The kids are alright: Brennan chats with young people involved with Live magazine
The kids are alright: Brennan chats with young people involved with Live magazine

In the stripped-pine, spotlit offices of a Brixton-based youth marketing firm, Kevin Brennan chats easily to a group of young people. It is his first public outing as voluntary sector minister.

The former economics teacher links their questions about Gordon Brown and the banking bail-out to personal experience: if there is no bail-out, we could see a return to the economic conditions of the 1930s, he says, when his mother grew up in a south Wales town with 68 per cent unemployment.

The young people - producers of Live, a youth magazine funded partly by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, Brennan's old department - do not ask him about charities specifically. Later, two of them say they did not realise this was his area.

When one asks how the Government decides who to give grants to, he struggles. But when Live's manager says the organisation - a social enterprise - is always facing red tape or being told to reapply for funding to the same sources, he picks up.

"If you rely on grants, it's not sustainable," says Brennan. "The clever thing is to have contracts - provide a service to a company or a local authority. Then you've got a more secure source of funding."

A question on the teaching of social enterprise in schools is easier. "We put it in the GCSE curriculum last year," he says. "It should have at least equal status with other types of business education.

"We need small businesses that are wedded to a desire for social change as well as to profit. Growing up, I worried that working for a big company was collaborating with the system, but with social enterprise you can be entrepreneurial and still feel you're doing good."

Brennan later tells Third Sector that it is "nonsense" for the Tories to say that the third sector has been demoted by the appointment of new Cabinet Secretary Liam Byrne in a non-Cabinet attending role.

"It's the fluff you get around reshuffles, but it's not real," he says. "What's real is the commitment, the policies, the investment."

But the Tories made much of the sector at the recent party conference; Labour didn't. He points to the Compact and Labour's promotion of social enterprise in defence. "Beware of warm words from fair-weather friends," he says.

Asked what he thinks of Nick Hurd, his Tory counterpart who was at Oxford University at a similar time, he says he knows him, but that not many of his friends are Old Etonians.

A quick photoshoot follows: Brennan's aides fret over his jacket button and whether a washing line outside is in shot. At least they can be happy that, in his first public outing as Minister for the Third Sector, Brennan has not been hung out to dry.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS ...

Sian Anderson, 17 - "I went in expecting him to bore me with politics. Instead I got something completely different. Someone asked why young people aren't interested in politics. He said they are interested, because they have opinions, which made sense to me. It seems like there's more to him than just being someone who works in Westminster: he used to be a teacher, he's in a band and he talked about his family."

Jelani Erskine, 19 - "There are too many chuggers everywhere and they're in your face all the time. I didn't know he was in charge of charities. If I had known I would have asked about that."

Sian - "I didn't know either. Charities are always shouting at me to give them more money. I would, if I could see where that money was going. The Government should give them money to have video links so you can speak to the person that your donation has helped. It would make people give more."

Jelani - "Young people think charities are a hoax. I give to Oxfam every month but I hear lots of stories about how charities keep the money for themselves."

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