Editorial: Progress is slow but there's a light ahead

Stephen Cook, editor

The Government pledged before the election that it would work to create a level playing field for voluntary organisations competing with the private and public sectors for public services and projects.

But progress remains painfully slow. There's been so much delay in appointing the Compact champion, promised in March, that the whole proposal has just been announced again, as if it were something new. High-ranking officials giving evidence to the Commons public accounts committee recently were not very upbeat about longer contracts for the voluntary sector. And there is no discernible progress on the promised inter-departmental unit to sponsor sector issues across Whitehall.

In the light of all this, it is tempting to accuse ministers of failing to deliver. But it would be unfair to be too scathing. If this whole project is to move forward with conviction, it cannot be done on a command model - it has to happen through a process of persuasion and example.

That's why the 'pathfinders' proposal put forward in the Chancellor's pre-Budget report last week looks like a good idea. It proposes "working across departments and with key national partners to identify local authorities that will commit to the full implementation of the Compact Plus principles".

It sounds a bit woolly, and we don't know what incentives there will be for councils to become Compact warriors. But if it's taken forward successfully and other councils can see clear advantages, they will follow voluntarily - and one volunteer is worth ten pressed men.

Christmas has come a bit early for Third Sector because this is our last edition of the year; but we will send out an email news bulletin next week to readers for whom we have electronic addresses.

After that, the magazine will next appear on 11 January, with a variety of developments and improvements resulting from some recent reader research. One aspect that emerged in the research, and on which we hope to build, is that readers who work in a huge variety of specialist areas like to use Third Sector to explore what they have in common. Our aims include helping you to find out what others are doing, to compare notes and experiences and to join a forum of debate - in short, to help provide a sense of communication and community.

We wish our readers an enjoyable break and look forward to continuing our coverage of this innovative and fast-developing sector in 2006.

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