Comment: Minister, give hope to the real people

I had a very useful meeting with Phil Hope, the new Minister for the Third Sector, last week - despite the difficulties I had getting into the Cabinet Office building itself. Disability-friendly it is not.

John Knight
John Knight

Before entering Parliament, Phil had long experience in the voluntary sector, and it is welcome to see someone with his background now in charge of the Government's engagement with the third sector. Phil and I worked together many years ago, looking at ways to support the grass-roots and get their voices heard at the highest level. In those days, explaining 'user involvement' was akin to summarising the theory of relativity. Not so now. People are ready to listen and understand - and, I hope, to act.

Phil's profile lists his political interests as "social inclusion and community regeneration". It is important for the sector and its future relationship with the Government that these interests - and his proven commitment to the grass-roots - are central to the Government's thinking.

I would like to see the minister's role encompassing the third sector in its broadest sense. That means not simply having responsibility for the Government's boardroom-level relationship with the sector, but also with the beneficiaries of the work we do. There is a growing discussion in government about the importance of listening to people on the ground and involving them in decisions that affect them. The sector's work with some of the most socially, politically and culturally disenfranchised people means we are ideally placed to make sure that those whose voices are least listened to could potentially be heard at the highest levels in government.

"Community voice" was a key phrase in the third sector review, but many fear this may be rhetoric. If the minister is to prove that the doubters are wrong, initiatives such as citizens' juries must be credible and include those the sector supports every day. Government won't hear what real people think by talking only to our chief executives; they also need to be talking to our beneficiaries.

- John Knight is head of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire

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