THINKPIECE: Guard passion at the heart of the third sector

The Government's increased interest in the voluntary sector, and, in particular, its encouragement for it to become more involved in the provision of social and public services may bring great benefits. But if not managed effectively, it could result in the erosion of the sector's unique character.

What defines the voluntary sector is the passion and commitment shown by many of those who work within it. People work for voluntary organisations because they feel passionate about the work they do or the cause for which they are fighting. Getting into bed with the Government by becoming involved in the delivery of social and public services, may offer great opportunities - but it comes with potential threats too.

At the heart of Government is bureaucracy, regulation and control. This may result in charities spending too much time complying with red tape, and too little doing what they are best at: delivering services to some of the most needy people in our society. For example, I have seen at first hand how people who have a passionate commitment and desire to help young people are spending a disproportionate amount of time understanding and coping with new government initiatives.

There is a danger that voluntary-sector organisations will go headlong into pursuing government objectives, without considering their own raison d'etre. The lure of extra funding may simply prove too much of a temptation, resulting in charities being driven by the Government, rather than by their own staff and volunteers. Charities need to first consider whether or not a partnership is in alignment with its stated objectives.

An alliance between the voluntary sector and the Government cannot be seen as a marriage of equals - more like a marriage of convenience. The Government is very much ruled and driven by its head, the voluntary sector by its heart and passion. Marriages of convenience can, of course, work as long as both partners go in with their eyes wide open. Anything else will result in the voluntary sector becoming an adjunct of the Government - and that would be a tragedy.

PAUL K WINTER, chief executive of The Leadership Trust Foundation. His other roles include chairman of Hereford and Worcester Connexions and trustee of The Teaching Awards Trust

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