Skills department sets tone for ministerial dealings with sector

Government departments have been urged to follow the example of the Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills by formally outlining how they interact with the third sector.

The DIUS is compiling its inaugural third sector policy over the next few months. The document, which will be submitted to the Office of the Third Sector, will describe how the department intends to incorporate the sector into its work. The OTS will ask all other government departments to write similar policies.

Pat Samuel, deputy director of public sector partnerships at the OTS, said: "There is no part of government to which the third sector is irrelevant. We want to help each department ensure they're not missing any opportunities."

She said a good third sector policy should reflect each department's structure - in the case of the DIUS, this includes separate sections for innovation, universities and skills. She said it should also show how any contracts given to third sector organisations comply with the Compact, and cover key elements from the third sector review - for example, encouraging volunteering and social enterprise.

Some departments have had third sector policies since 2003 but, according to Samuel, they need updating. New departments created by Gordon Brown last year do not yet have one.

Elements of the DIUS policy will be drawn from the old Department for Education and Skills, which was preparing to publish its third sector policy when Brown restructured government.

"We will be asking the DIUS what it is doing to encourage universities to promote volunteering among their students, for example," Samuel said.

"They could also encourage universities to embed study of the sector into degree courses. Then we'll do the same for each part of the department.

"Lots of third sector organisations, such as the King's Fund, are involved in health and medical research, so that would fit the innovation bit. And some research organisations might want to set themselves up as social enterprises."

Dr Julie Nugent, the DIUS third sector champion, will coordinate the policy. She will set up a group, including people from her department, the Learning and Skills Council and the Department for Children, Schools and Families, to discuss ways in which the third sector is involved in skills provision.

Samuel described the plans at a conference at Cumberland Lodge, Windsor, last week.

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