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After being talked about endlessly and having been the subject of much hype and speculation it’s finally out. Could it possibly live up to those heightened expectations? Would it disappoint and leave people up and down the country suffering a distinct sense of anti-climax or would it weave some magic and deliver a few surprises? Well, at £18 it’s roughly double the price of Harry Potter’s last outing, but some may regard the third sector review’s final report as priceless.

‘Ten year vision… £515m of funding… a new focus on enabling the third sector’s role in campaigning… investment in community anchor organisations… ensuring the sector’s long-term sustainability…’ – at first glance even the most sceptical in the sector would struggle not to be left spellbound.

As ever, the devil is in the detail and after poring over its 100 plus pages some may have found more spin than substance. There will inevitably be questions over whether there’s enough money behind it or if it manages to address all key issues. But the fact is it equates to the strongest statement of intent voluntary and community organisations are ever likely to get from government.

Rather than being left to stew over the summer in anticipation of what the comprehensive spending review will bring, by announcing the government’s investment in advance Gordon Brown has provided certainty to a sector that desperately needs it.

In his foreword, the prime minister describes the review as ‘a vision of how the state and the third sector working together at all levels and as equal partners can bring about real change in our country’. Now there’s a statement to tuck away and dig out every time that relationship is strained. It might be best to keep it close to hand.

While all would no doubt welcome being an ‘equal partner’ with government, many would settle for achieving that status with local authorities. The degree to which this vision becomes reality will depend an awful lot on the response of councils. The review reiterates the need for local authorities to work in partnership with the third sector – as stressed in the local government white paper. A good deal more progress is needed on this front to ensure a happy ending.

Austin Macauley, editor, New Start Online magazine

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