The Blunkett Review - safe, but with some bold ideas

Labour's third sector policy for the next manifesto gives a toe-poke or a back-heel to most of the policy balls currently rolling around the voluntary sector pitch, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor, Third Sector
Stephen Cook, editor, Third Sector

Sixteen months ago, former Cabinet minister David Blunkett was asked by the Government to oversee the development of third sector policy for the next Labour manifesto.

He was seen by many as a good choice because he had been Home Secretary when voluntary sector policy was run from that department and had helped to get the recent Charities Act under way. Some were sceptical, given the populist and somewhat wayward tendencies he has demonstrated over the years.

The result of his deliberations, published as a Fabian Society pamphlet at the NCVO political conference this week, gives a toe-poke or a back-heel to most of the policy balls currently rolling around the voluntary sector pitch, often adding little momentum either way. He says Gift Aid must be improved but doesn't say how, his contribution to "community empowerment" is hard to penetrate and he puts his weight behind a lot of things that are already under way to some extent: full cost recovery, for example, three-year contracts and better commissioning. On the Compact, he backs the emerging consensus for giving the Commission for the Compact statutory status and powers of investigation.

But he also backs some things the Government might find less comfortable. He presses the case for lifetime legacies, which would allow people to get a tax benefit from giving assets to charity and continue to benefit from the income until they die. Great idea, but will it happen? He also calls for an urgent review of CRB checks, particularly in relation to 'portability' and cases of people who work or volunteer for several organisations. A bit of common sense is needed, he says - a view many would echo.

He's in favour of more volunteering in the public services, but here the wayward side emerges as well: he proposes a trial in several cities of "an entirely voluntary but substantive civil volunteer corps, which would be a non-military option for engaging large numbers of young people in a life-changing experience". Most politicians are likely to shift that one straight into the 'too difficult' tray.

By contrast, his suggestion for "closer integrated working or the amalgamation" of Futurebuilders and Capacitybuilders will offer ministers a way forward when the much-delayed National Audit Office report on the two funds comes out next year - a report that, were it complimentary, would have been out long ago.

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