One of the main fears about the Compact is that Local Area Agreements ignore it. The agreements – three-year statements of local priorities agreed by statutory bodies and partners, including the voluntary sector – are the main partnership mechanisms. Compact Voice officer Paul Barasi has said that LAAs could undermine the Compact if they disregard it (Third Sector, 31 January). Last month, the Government Office for the West Midlands carried out research on the subject.
The office quizzed 42 Compact workers in the west midlands at focus groups and interviews. It asked if the voluntary sector had been involved in agreements and how its role could be enhanced.
The survey revealed that most large voluntary organisations and infrastructure groups had had some involvement in their agreements, but smaller, rural charities had not. Some felt the timescales for being involved were not Compact-compliant.
Charities of all sizes agreed they were more involved in developing than in implementing agreements and that "actions agreed at stage one were forgotten later". Local experiences differed vastly: Warwickshire respondents said their primary care trust ignored the Compact; Walsall respondents praised theirs for being Compact-compliant.
Areas with existing cross-sector partnerships, such as the Engaging Worcestershire Steering Group, had made most progress, but many feared that the agreements were top-down impositions that ran contrary to local consultation. Ideas to develop the Compact included regular monitoring by the Audit Commission or the Healthcare Commission.
"The Compact generates energy; many people feel it has more potential than it has so far achieved, and it requires a firm commitment at every level," says the report. Barasi applauds the government office for being the first to commission research into the Compact. But he adds: "The key question is: what now? Will Local Strategic Partnerships in the west midlands consider this research and how to respond to it?"