EDITORIAL: A lot to gain but also a lot to lose in public sector

LUCY MAGGS

The launch of the cross-cutting review has resulted in a lot of talk about the role of the voluntary and community sector in delivering public services. Paul Boat-eng hailed the review as a "significant step forward in the relationship between the Government and the sector".

The voluntary sector has the edge over the private sector in many ways when it comes to service delivery. Organisations already have expertise in health care, education and other vital areas and access to trained staff and experienced volunteers. The sector is also not driven by the need to provide returns to shareholders.

But the Government must remember that voluntary organisations are not simply service sub-contractors more palatable to the public than the private options it has been pushing.

The voluntary sector is a breeding ground for innovative projects, tackling problems in creative, sometimes controversial ways. Take Revolving Doors, which works with people with mental health problems who have been in contact with the criminal justice system. It relies on grants, but were it to start pursuing growth in order to win contracts, how much of that innovative edge would it be able to retain? Were it not for the grants they receive, such projects could not exist. Contracting is another matter, it is about delivering mainstream services.

Increasing involvement in service delivery raises the issue of how the sector will look in 10 years. It would be a great loss if the sector became simply a provider of large-scale basic services and small, innovative projects fell by the wayside because of a lack of funding.

The Government's recognition that it needs to work on its relationship with service-delivery charities is a big step. But in the "revolution

of public- and voluntary-sector relations, we must make sure the Government doesn't forget that the sector is also there to innovate and campaign.

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