OPINION: Bill will develop links with state and its citizens

After months of 'will it/won't it' speculation, a draft bill to revise the legal and regulatory framework of charities made it into the Queen's Speech. In the same week, the PM kicked off his roadshow to find out how ordinary folk want to engage in politics. The two fit well together as part of a developing agenda on reciprocity between citizen and state.

When I was born, a little after the end of the Second World War, Britain's culture was very different. The birth of the welfare state in the late 1940s forged a new relationship between state and citizen. It created a strong social bond based on benevolence, designed to rebuild the social and infrastructural fabric of a heroic, but war-torn, nation. In many ways it has been very successful, particularly in terms of better public services of both care and protection.

But, and it's an increasingly big but, it has been a victim of its own success. As people live longer, are better educated and earn more, wants begin to exceed needs. The welfare state begins to feel constraining, overstretched and to offer the minimum rather than excellence.

No, I am not about to start humming Land of Hope and Glory, but we are at a significant crossroads in redefining the relationship between government and people. The drafting and implementation of the Charities Bill has a major part to play by identifying and reinforcing the key values - such as spontaneity, warmth, integrity, generosity, mutuality, accountability, fairness, social justice and choice- that have traditionally been the territory of the voluntary sector, but which are increasingly resonant for all.

The Bill legislates for these values, increasing the range of activities which can be considered charitable, defining the rules of engagement, establishing statutory reporting on recruiting and developing trustees, measuring the value and impact of your work and the effective deployment of resources to meet user need. It aims to build public trust, which is at the heart of social cohesion.

As people increasingly expect to be involved in defining and delivering their own destinies, we need a government which works with the sector.

Not, as the critics say, to roll back the state, but to engage individuals in sharing responsibility and investing in their own futures.

Geraldine Peacock is a charity commissioner and a civil service commissioner

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