Editorial: Admitting the problem is the first step

Stephen Cook, editor

There's an irony in the fact that the head of the Active Communities Directorate at the Home Office has given an interview to Third Sector, in which he explains his approach to his job, at precisely the time we wrote about a leaked report from the National Lead Funder Pilot (Third Sector, 23 February).

Jitinder Kohli makes clear in our Newsmaker, on the previous page, that he wants to float across Whitehall, dipping into this government department and that, in order to smooth the bureaucratic path the voluntary sector has to tread as it sets up contractual and funding relationships with the public sector. But the leaked report makes it just as clear that there are, in reality, limited opportunities for this, and that the principle of lead funding and 'passporting', which would spare the sector some of the toil of multiple applications, "has potential in the longer term, but has barriers to success which need to be overcome in the short-medium term".

This is Whitehall-speak for "no chance, mate". The chief executives' body Acevo has reacted with disappointment, saying the Government has ducked the issues and comparing the report to a wet lettuce leaf. This is entirely understandable: New Labour committed itself to joined-up government the first time it was elected, and here we are, eight years later, being told by its officials that it's too difficult for different bits of the machinery of administration to mesh constructively with each other. The word Kafkaesque comes to mind.

However, the report makes it clear that there have been small victories, and that not all prospects are bad. It is a realistic and clear-sighted document and provides a useful analysis of the complexities that make it so difficult for different departments and agencies, with their different histories, priorities, lines of accounting and geographical responsibilities, to work together. It indicates the bewildering array of guidance that has been produced in an attempt to reduce bureaucracy, and makes practical suggestions, such as increasing the use of electronic document preparation and transfer.

Two of the best recommendations are for all departments to review their monitoring and assessment practices, and for them to "revisit" certain key documents, including the Compact. The voluntary sector won't have much influence over that, but in the meantime it can do its bit by following another recommendation and putting beyond reproach the efficiency and probity of its own dealings with the public sector.

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