Politics: Labour conference - Sector is 'partner of the state, not a competitor'

Nathalie Thomas

Voluntary organisations tried to quell the growing unrest among statutory sector workers about the role of charities in public services, telling them at the Labour Party conference last week that there is "enough work for all of us".

Third sector minister Ed Miliband also made it clear he did not want to see a rift between the public and voluntary sectors over this issue.

"What I am keen to avoid is for this to become a battle for territory," he told a fringe meeting organised by NCH.

Palliative care and disability charities told their public sector counterparts not to be scared of the voluntary sector and urged them to see the sector as a partner, not a competitor.

"In my view, we're not here to replace the public services," Michael Shaw, chief executive of John Grooms, told an audience at its joint fringe meeting with Sue Ryder Care. "What we can do is add value."

Shaw said the sector's strength lay in creating services and offering a level of care the public sector was not always able to provide.

Stephen Collinson, director of healthcare at Sue Ryder Care, agreed that the sector's work could complement the statutory services. He cited the example of Sue Ryder's market analysis team, which assesses the needs of local communities to help both the local Primary Care Trust and voluntary organisations to understand the services required in that area.

At an event held by the Public and Commercial Services Union, Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, called on the unions to engage in a "better informed and more constructive" debate on the potential role of the third sector in service delivery.

He also urged unions not to focus on the organisational form of the service provider but on the needs of the service user.

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