Editorial: Will the next chapter be more inclusive?

Stephen Cook, editor

The final stages of the Charities Bill produced some scuffles that failed to prevent a fudging of the public benefit question. But now that's over, it's important to recognise that the passage of the Bill is a significant landmark, for two reasons.

The first relates to the legislation itself. The sceptics think it will make little difference to life as it's lived, and they might be right. But let's see how it all plays out - not just the public benefit question, but initiatives such as the Charity Tribunal and the regulation of public fundraising by the Charity Commission. We face interesting times.

The second reason is that the Bill symbolises an entire agenda that was conceived 10 years ago and has now, in the main, been implemented. It is the agenda of the Deakin report, which recommended a modernisation of the voluntary sector that was taken up by the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit report of 2002. Since then we have had Futurebuilders, the Bill itself, ChangeUp, Capacitybuilders, the Office of the Compact Commissioner and the establishment of the Office of the Third Sector in the Cabinet Office. Most of the machinery has been put in place, often with agonising slowness, and now it's a question of making it work.

All this produces a sense that the sector is now going into a new phase of consolidation and - perhaps - realignment. A crucial part in that is bound to be played by the NCVO, which is still the most influential sector organisation and deserves huge credit for its contribution to the Deakin agenda with its consistent, persistent campaigning and its political savoir-faire. It says it expects there to be a period of culture change in the sector, and its choice of a new policy chief will perhaps signal what kind of change it means.

There is a perception, at least in the metropolitan hothouse, that the NCVO has sometimes behaved in a less than collegiate way towards other organisations, and the conduct of its participation in the ill-starred ChangeUp hubs was hardly a shining example of how to win friends and influence people.

But if a new chapter is indeed opening, one possible script has sector leadership organisations sinking some of their differences and coming together in a new way, perhaps even working out of the same building at some stage in the future. The sector will never speak with a single voice - nor should it - but a bit more inclusiveness might not be a bad idea.

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