Editorial: The sector is not the panacea for government's ills

Lucy Maggs

The voluntary sector has changed enormously over the four years I have been at Third Sector - it is now bigger, more professional and more high profile.

But the main difference is the close relationship it now has with government.

This may put organisations in a better position to influence policy, but the Government must not be allowed to use the sector as a cheap solution to the problem of running public services.

Although Tony Blair has been hugely criticised for his approach to the war in Iraq, it is health and education that will sway voters in the long run. But the Government is also under pressure on this domestic front with services starting to crumble after years of under-investment.

The public is hostile to the idea of privatisation as a possible solution.

Images of fat cats from a narrow range of discredited 'preferred bidders' running hospitals and schools will not win many votes. Hence the Government is focusing on the idea of voluntary organisations taking the reins - their not-for-profit status and the dedication of their staff and volunteers makes them a more bankable option.

While voluntary organisations have the skills to run services in the areas in which they operate, Alan Milburn's idea of the sector becoming involved in the running of the NHS is an alarming one. Voluntary organisations are not set up to run this kind of key service and would find themselves rapidly converted into bureaucratic, service delivery mechanisms, little different from the existing public sector.

Investment and support of the sector must be welcomed, if this has the right motivations, but voluntary organisations mustn't let the Government channel their expertise and passion into achieving its political goals.

- Lucy Maggs is leaving Third Sector to become head of media and communications at Crisis.

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