The voluntary sector has been through a major shake-up over the past few years. From being a sector dismissed by government as run by middle-aged ladies in cardigans, it is now a key player in its plans to reform public services. And the sector has taken up the challenge. It has taken forward the review of sector law and regulation, forming a coalition group campaigning for new legislation to be included in the Queen's Speech.
Organisations are becoming more efficient and effective in looking at ways they can improve service delivery, measure their performance and demonstrate to the public what they are doing. The sector's rising salaries reflect the fact that many organisations are run by top professionals (see page 2) - not the twin-set-and-pearls brigade of the stereotype.
The government spotlight on the sector has also given it the confidence to realise its value and refuse to be treated as a cheap alternative to public service delivery. Organisations are starting to demand that they are properly paid for government contracts, and are rejecting the culture in which local authorities refuse to pay for administrative costs.
When James Strachan, chairman of the Audit Commission, criticised the sector for its culture of whingeing (Third Sector, 19 November), he was right to highlight that voluntary organisations will have to adopt a 'can-do' attitude and get tougher if they want to take on more public service responsibility. And, as the government's reform of public services gets going, the battle for contracts between voluntary organisations and companies is starting to hot up.
But his negative image of the 'whinge culture' doesn't recognise that large parts of the sector are already taking advantage of the government's public service delivery agenda. The sector is not sitting around complaining about its unfair treatment, but is full of innovative and enterprising organisations seizing opportunities with both hands.