Editorial: The coalition moves to a different tune

Charities must get used to the idea that politics is entering a new period and the old certainties are crumbling, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook
Stephen Cook

The summer break has brought no real let-up in political activity, much of it about cuts.

No sooner had we heard about the in-year savings at the Office for Civil Society - 7 per cent of the 2010/11 budget - than news came of the reduction of 40 per cent in what the OCS plans to spend on its partnership programme next year.

This programme, worth £12m this year, is one of the lesser-known government funds. The OCS and its predecessor, the Office of the Third Sector, have never been noisy about it, and its recipients typically become a bit defensive when asked for details. The programme gives money to 42 umbrella bodies and charities so that they can advise the government, act as advocates for the sector and carry out research.

The coalition administration is sceptical about the programme, as the civil society minister Nick Hurd makes clear in his interview with Third Sector this week. He thinks it has lacked focus and has not entirely demonstrated its purpose or its worth. A glance at some of the annual reports the organisations submit to the OCS suggest he may have a point.

Meanwhile, some of the representative bodies that are used to being kept in the loop by the OCS - consulted routinely, informed of events in advance and so on - have begun to protest in private that this is not happening so much. If this trend continues, they imply, the government is likely to lose touch with the sector and its views.

Perhaps they will have to adjust to the reality that this government is trying to do things a different way. It wants to rely less on the usual suspects and connect more widely to the sector. Whether that can be done, and how, is all part of the slightly scary and nebulous experiment called the big society. It's politics, but not as we know it. We are entering a period when everyone will have to hang on to their hats.

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