Headlines: June 23rd, 2006

The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, wants voluntary and community bodies, the third sector, to work more closely with government to deliver public services. He said that it seems clear that partnerships between commercial companies, third sector organisations and the public sector will, more and more, be the way public services are delivered. But if there are barriers that prevent this collaboration, they will be removed. Rules that prevent private and third sector bodies bidding fairly against the public sector will be changed. He outlined a range of measures, including the appointment of minister, to enhance the role of the sector.Ed Miliband has been appointed as Minister for the Third Sector. He will head the newly created Office of the Third Sector which among other tasks will work to ensure that longer-term funding arrangements become the norm rather than the exception. A new Public Service Innovation Team will be established in the Office of the Third Sector, which will work with the IDeA to be an intelligence bank for best practice in the sector and act as a bridge for sharing and fostering innovation across the public sector.

Speaking on his appointment the Minister said: ‘”The third sector is uniquely positioned to make sure that local users experience public services that are specifically tailored to meet their needs. The role of the Government will be to enable voluntary organisations to deliver services in partnership with the public and private sectors, bringing with them a more intimate knowledge of user needs, the ability to engage hard-to-reach groups in society, and the capacity to innovate in response to unique local combinations of delivery challenges.”

Other measures to support the expanded role of the third sector include the setting up of a Social Enterprise Unit within the Department of Health to encourage innovation and entrepreneurialism in health and social care, paving the way for new services which better meet patients and service users’ needs. There will also be a senior Central-Local Government-Third Sector Engagement Board to provide national leadership across the public and third sectors.

This new commitment by government to the third sector is already starting to impact in different areas. The development of regional and local networks between the two sectors is being encouraged and the North East Regional Centre of Excellence will be appointed as lead centre on Third Sector issues working with the IDeA and 4Ps to develop a national programme of capacity building work to improve commissioning and procurement practices. The commitment is also likely to impact on waste management, local and community transport, neighbourhood and street scene services, community leisure and public libraries.