EDITORIAL: Now is the time for ministers to take real action

Lucy Maggs

The Government seems keen to show it has a real interest in the voluntary sector, and ministers, including Home Secretary David Blunkett and Fiona Mactaggart, the new voluntary sector minister, have said they support the introduction of a charities bill as soon as possible. But the next few months will show exactly how much political interest is really invested in the sector.

Last week, the Government published its response to the Strategy Unit's proposals on the reform of charity law and regulation. It broadly agreed with the report, published last year, and if the suggested changes go ahead it could lead to a major shake up of what Mactaggart calls the "splendidly out of date" nature of British charity law.

But she refused to commit to a timescale to bring about these changes.

For most of the major proposals to go ahead, such as the introduction of a public benefit test for all charities, new legislation would be needed, and there are stages that need to be gone through before this can happen, including the introduction of a draft bill, which NCVO hopes will happen in November, in the Queen's speech.

The progress of proposals that do not require legislation is also up in the air because the chief charity commissioner, John Stoker, said last week that there was no timetable in place to take them forward.

Although the Government's positive reaction to the Strategy Unit's proposals is a good sign, the promise of change being delivered is not yet set in stone. In Scotland the MacFadden Commission suggested changes in charity law two years ago, but despite the promise of action there is still no sign of them being acted upon. Jackie Baillie, a member of the Scottish Parliament, has got so fed up with waiting she has published a proposal for a private member's bill.

To ensure the Strategy Unit's suggestions do not follow the same fate, the sector needs to keep the pressure on and make sure ministers deliver.

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