Government knows value of third sector



Good news is not news. Crime, disasters, conflict and gossip are the perceived tastes of the British public. That is why you are unlikely to have read the following headline: “18 million good Samaritans aid local charities.”
That is the estimate for the number of volunteers in this country who work for local charities. You’ll never see: “55,000 social enterprises in £8.4 billion boost to national economy.”
The capitalist press has never been enthusiastic about reporting the successes of other business structures. We all are supposed to believe that social enterprises are the preserve of muesli munching, sandal wearing, long haired idealists who could not make it in the real business world. Try telling that to the Eden project.
These are just two of the statistics revealed by the Government in its report The future role of the third sector in social and economic regeneration. You are unlikely to have read much about it because this sort of information presents a picture of Britain at variance with popular media myths. In truth we cannot be too hard on the media for not giving it the prominence it deserves. Any report with this title must be compulsory medication for insomniacs.
The purpose of the review was to assess the contribution made by the sector and outline measures to strengthen it. Behind this title lies a report which demonstrates the vast amount of goodwill and generosity of millions of people working for the benefit of others. 
Above all it demonstrates there is a huge business sector successfully providing goods and services to the public that do not fall within the traditional definitions of the public or private sector.
There are 168,600 registered charities and add to that 55,000 social enterprises and 8,100 co-operatives it becomes apparent there are few people not associated with the third sector either as customer or contributor. 
In a debate in the Commons, my Labour/Co-op colleague and Cabinet Office Minister, Phil Hope, summed up the report by saying: “We want to create an environment in which the third sector flourishes, is independent and develops new partnerships. That is the 21st century approach to a thriving third sector.” 
The Government’s intention is to encourage volunteering by tapping into the idealism and energies of young people. It can provide an opportunity to develop skills and self esteem, important to themselves and vital to add value to public service provision. 
Many people graduate from the voluntary and charitable sector to work for the public services. Many charities set up social enterprises to deliver their services. Social enterprises commonly have higher standards of employment practice and trading principles.
Volunteering, charitable activism, social enterprise and ethical trading all have their roots in the idealism and principles of Co-op pioneers. This sort of organisation is community inspired rather than Government led. 
Among the many measures to develop the sector are £80m for a small grants programme for local community action and a £50m local endowment match fund to enable local community foundations to be set up to obtain match funding for grants to volunteer groups. £117m will be provided for youth volunteering and £85m for investment in infrastructure and skills training through the ‘capacity builders’ programme. 
Just as important as Government money is the recognition and enhanced profile of the role of the sector. Co-operation has long demonstrated that idealism and public benefit can operate in the market place, but in the past governments have failed to realise its potential in transforming society. This report heralds a change of heart. It is up to co-operators to make the most of it.
• Adrian Bailey is Labour/Co-op MP for West Bromwich West.


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