Editorial: Big government pauses for little voice of dissent

Stephen Cook

Big majorities make for overweening, unresponsive government. Opposition parties are reduced to spluttering or resigned impotence, and even large rebellions by Labour backbenchers can be easily shrugged off by ministers.

So it's heartening that, on occasion, the juggernaut pauses for a small voice.

Many people think that when the Civil Contingencies Bill was drawn up, it was an oversight rather than a considered decision to leave the voluntary sector out of new provision for emergency planning. Perhaps the parliamentary draughtspeople had an off day, or looked out of the window at the wrong moment.

The result was that the duty of local authorities to give organisations advice on how to survive disasters ranging from floods to a nuclear attack was restricted to commercial companies, while charities and the voluntary sector, for no good reason, were left out.

George Cook of Charity Logistics, a service-providing organisation for the sector, took up the cudgels with two ministers: Douglas Alexander, then at the Cabinet Office, and Fiona Mactaggart at the Home Office. They fobbed him off. He could have shrugged his shoulders and gone home. But instead he persisted, took out press adverts, and recruited Acevo to the cause.

The good news this week is that the pressure has paid off, and the Government will introduce an amendment to include the voluntary sector in the provisions of the Bill.

In one sense, the campaign involved a degree of self-interest, because one of the services sold to the sector by Charity Logistics is disaster recovery. In a more important sense, it was an example of the voluntary sector at its best - awkward, persistent, and prepared to see things through.

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