Policy special: Ed Miliband - The four key challenges

Ed Miliband, minister for the third sector, has embarked on a tour of the country to talk about the Government's current review of the role of voluntary oganisations and explain his personal vision of how the sector can prosper.

I have been minister for the third sector for just six weeks, but I feel very privileged to be doing this job. I have been inspired by the people I have already had the chance to meet. From social entrepreneurs changing their communities here and abroad to large charities and small community groups engaging the most disadvantaged, it has been a humbling experience for me.

Ten years on from the 1996 independent Deakin Commission Report, there is now an opportunity for government and the sector to work together and think ambitiously about the next 10 years, with the newly established Treasury/Cabinet Office review of the third sector.

Much has changed since Deakin's report: the growth of social enterprise, improvements to Gift Aid, the establishment of the Compact, the increased role of the sector in service delivery and the rising significance of the sector's voice, both domestically and internationally. Volunteering is also increasing, a growing sign that altruism and social engagement can thrive in today's society.

The new review is a chance to think again about the shared challenges we face and what we can do to tackle them. The spirit of this review is very much about listening to the voices of those who know about what needs to be done. We are holding events across England, including ones that I have attended in London, Guildford and Newcastle. I hope that people from across the sector will use them to help us understand what needs to change.

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the issues that strike me as the most important.

First, on issues both large and small, people often feel a sense of powerlessness and futility. How can government work with the voluntary sector to enable it to reach out and empower people, particularly those from the most disadvantaged communities? I see campaigning and advocacy as essential parts of the sector's role, so I also want government to celebrate and understand its voice and its activism. It is clear that change does not come simply from government decisions, but often from pressure imparted by citizens. We need to recognise this and enable you to enhance this essential part of your work.

The second issue is public service delivery. We should be clear about the reasons for the use of the sector in aspects of public service delivery - it is about helping to improve the service for the public. The Government has already taken some important steps towards tackling barriers to the work of third sector bodies, but there is a lot more to do. This must be about an ethic of co-operation rather than of competition between the public and voluntary sectors, so we also want to look at how the public sector can learn from the best practice of the third sector.

Third, volunteering creates a relationship between individuals and communities who would often never meet. Millions of people volunteer in our country, but how can we expand the reach of volunteering and build social cohesion and community, across generations, classes and faiths?

Fourth, the UK has fantastic social enterprises at the cutting edge of doing business, contributing billions of pounds to GDP and often providing lessons for public and private sector alike. Whether they are employing the most marginalised or improving the environment, I believe that social entrepreneurs are showing that enterprise and justice can go hand in hand.

But how can we move to the next level, from work on social enterprise education in schools to issues of finance and the opening of new markets for social enterprises?

These four challenges cover some of the important outcomes we seek to achieve together. But I also know that achieving them rests partly on making progress on a fifth challenge - improving the resource base of the sector. We have made important strides forward, but one of the central focuses to my work will be improving the length and nature of funding from government to the third sector.

The solutions to these challenges will come from the third sector working with government. That is why we want to hear from you. If you want to comment or find out more, email thirdsector@cabinet-office.x.gsi.gov.uk.

I want to hear from you, so I hope you will email us and that I will get the chance to meet you over the coming months.


The Government's policy review of the future role of the third sector in social and economic regeneration will involve the largest ever consultation of the sector and include six more regional events:

For more information, please email thirdsector@cabinet-office.x.gsi.gov.uk.

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