The DTI's Partnership Fund is a victim of the most fatal of media disabilities - it is a good news story. It is not regulatory, its red tape is somewhere between minimal and invisible, and it dispenses public money judiciously to employers and employee bodies trying to work together better. Even the Institute of Directors has difficulty painting it as unwarranted state interference in employment relations.
With the election over, the DTI has three choices about what to do next with the fund. Alan Johnson, the minister responsible, can close it down, hold funding at the tiny current level, or build ambitiously on success. He should choose the third way.
How does the fund work? It has just £5m to allocate over four years to projects that, in its own words, "Spread best partnership practice more widely". Bidders can be employers, unions, other employee bodies, voluntary organisations, Business Links or other agencies. The DTI will give up to 50 per cent of eligible costs to a maximum of £50,000 per project.
In the two bidding rounds to date, the department has handed out funding to 71 projects. It has helped Pizza Express to establish an employee forum; the AEEU engineering union has had money to build partnership competences among its officials; management and union at a fishing tackle maker in Alnwick have funding for a project to improve productivity; and so on. So why the need for change?
In the first place, the fund is too small. If the Government is serious about partnership - and it appears to be - then £5m over four years will make too little impact on the massive, partnership-free majority of business. And the impact will be all but invisible in the small and medium-size enterprise sector, which stays stubbornly immune to most government initiatives.
Secondly, the fund should review its approach to the public services. Given the public sector's share of employment, its tally of successful partnership fund bids looks worryingly small - about 10 per cent. The matched funding requirement may pose particular problems in a sector plagued by financial constraints.
The third pointer to a change is even more ambitious. At present, the fund is virtuous but unattached. Why not hook it up to other government initiatives where it could make a contribution? Take forthcoming legislation on information and consultation. The DTI could open a new funding round for projects d