Editorial: The sector's logjam is breaking up at last

Stephen Cook, editor

It's the London bus syndrome: nothing comes for ages, then three come at once.

First there was the appointment of Ed Miliband as third sector minister, and now, in quick succession, we have the appointment of Dame Suzi Leather as the new chair of the Charity Commission and confirmation that the Charities Bill will have its second reading in the Commons next Monday.

If the appointment of the long-awaited Compact commissioner comes through as well, we'll be fainting from the smell of diesel.

But it's heartening to feel at last that things are getting under way after what has in some ways seemed a fallow year. Despite the sense of free fall and disarray at the heart of government, it's now possible to believe that, in this area of policy at least, a new deal is really in the offing. Ed Miliband sets out his stall on the third sector policy review on page 27 of this issue: it's an ambitious but realistic vision.

The Prime Minister's third sector summit, scheduled for tomorrow, should give it an extra boost.

On the regulatory and legislative front, another frustrating logjam has been broken. The modernisation of the Charity Commission has in some ways been put on hold by the decision of Geraldine Peacock to depart prematurely and the stalling of the Charities Bill; an end to that phase is now in view.

Leather's experience in consumer protection on the one hand and in regulation on the other seems like a particularly happy combination for heading the commission. She has a reputation for being sharp, fair and dedicated.

She has, however, bought a pig in a poke when it comes to some aspects of the Charities Bill. There is little disagreement about much of it, including reform of the structure and functions of the commission. But nobody at this stage can quite predict what is going to emerge on the crucial question of public benefit, with its ticklish implications for the charitable status of fee-paying schools.

Whatever does emerge, however, is going to have to be handled by the commission, and that could take a great deal of skill in balancing conflicting interests. The best we can say is that we are moving into the endgame of what has been a fraught and protracted process. By high summer, when Leather takes over,the decision of Parliament should be clear and she will know for certain what she's in for.

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