Compact in action: The Compact Commissioner

John Stoker will have learned some valuable lessons from an event held in Leeds.

The role of the Compact Commissioner came under the spotlight at an event held in Leeds at the end of January.

Organised by the Government Office for Yorkshire and the Humber, the event was attended by about 100 Compact workers from the voluntary and public sectors in the north of England.

For most, it was their first chance to meet the commissioner, John Stoker, since he took up his position in October.

Stoker was the keynote speaker and also took part in a panel debate. In his speech he reiterated the message that his role was to help people, not kick them.

But there was concern among the not-for-profit sector representatives who attended the event that something stronger might be needed to make recalcitrant local authorities take the Compact as seriously as ministers say they should.

"All the voluntary sector people sat on my table felt the Compact did not have enough teeth," says Jane Daguerre, director of Leeds Voice, which promotes the interests of the voluntary sector in the West Yorkshire city.

Leeds is unusual because its Local Area Agreement funds Leeds Voice, which means the sector receives more than lip service from its public sector partners. Other places are less fortunate and often have few formal opportunities to pursue their grievances with public bodies over issues such as contracts.

Daguerre says senior people and grassroots workers have bought into the Compact, but she believes that middle managers are less enthusiastic.

There are further worries within the sector, she says, that ideas to promote the Compact, such as kitemark schemes, might do little more than create another level of bureaucracy. "There is a lot of cynicism in the sector that needs to be addressed," she says.

Nevertheless, Daguerre says the event proved valuable and she hopes it will be repeated. "It was a good chance to meet the commissioner and share ideas," she says.

By offering the chance to listen to delegates' concerns, the day could prove equally valuable to Stoker, whose commission in Birmingham is likely to be launched at the end of this month.

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