Editorial: Taskforce offers a challenge to Goggins

Stephen Cook, editor

Charities minister Paul Goggins has had a fairly quiet time in the six months since his appointment. Little visible progress has been made in implementing Labour's manifesto commitment to putting the voluntary and community sector on a level playing field with the private and public sectors. But Goggins is to lead the Government's response to the report on the voluntary sector by the Better Regulation Task Force, and this gives him a golden opportunity to distinguish himself.

The report, published this week, is chock-full of well-argued, practical recommendations for creating that elusive level field. It proposes reducing the regulatory burden imposed by the Charity Commission, reforming trust law, and - crucially - lifting the unfair burden of VAT carried by charities.

Other recommendations that are not charity-specific could also have an effect, notably the rationalisation of requirements to check staff with the Criminal Records Bureau and the reduction of bureaucracy in contracts and grants.

Its general call is for "more risk-based and proportionate monitoring", and our news story this week about the Young Carers Project in Essex is a timely case study. Seeking funding for less than £7,000, the applicants - already well known to the county council - were happy to complete an 18-page application form, which they found less than user-friendly and full of jargon. They were happy to supply details of their policies and procedures and ensure financial monitoring. But when they were also asked to provide reports every three months, they decided the whole thing was not cost-effective and walked away.

What is the matter with these jobsworths? Of course we need to ensure that public money is not siphoned off by dishonest people or used wastefully.

But there has to be common sense and proportion. Public sector bureaucrats risk wasting the potential and goodwill of the voluntary sector in a whole variety of ways - just read the article on partnerships by David Abse on page 31.

The taskforce is challenging the Government to act on its recommendations by the end of 2007. Given the multi-layered nature of the problem, it's quite a tall order. Several government departments will have to be persuaded to agree - including the Treasury, the daddy of them all - and central government will have to persuade local government to change its ways - not just in the letter, but in the spirit. Goggins will certainly be in need of a following wind.

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