Compact in action: Influencing Gloucestershire's Local Area Agreement

A history of inter-sector collaboration means the Compact is thriving in the south west.

Last month, Third Sector highlighted how many Local Area Agreements don't even mention the Compact (Third Sector, 31 January).

Many voluntary organisations view this as a major threat because the agreements are supposed to outline local funding priorities. So if the agreements disregard the Compact, charities have less chance of influencing where money gets spent.

Although this is a concern in many areas, things are different in Gloucestershire.

Here, the sector has been able to have a major say in local affairs because of a long-standing recognition of its value - backed up by cash - within the public sector.

The county council gives £85,000 of core funding each year to a partnership and participation team whose job it is to ensure charities' voices get heard in local decision making. The team, which is managed by and based alongside Gloucester Association for Voluntary and Community Action, runs the county's Voluntary Sector Assembly.

The assembly debates issues that affect the not-for-profit sector and nominates eight representatives to Gloucestershire Strategic Partnership, the cross-sector body that draws up the Local Area Agreement.

Formal representation on the strategic partnership enabled charities to lobby successfully to get environmental issues added to the Local Area Agreement's list of priorities. The sector has also used its representation to push inclusion up the agenda.

"The voluntary and community sector has had a big impact on influencing the Local Area Agreement," says Roisin Harte, a development worker on the partnership and participation team.

Zahid Dar, who became manager of the team three months ago, says: "I came from Bristol to take up the post and we didn't have the same level of partnership there." He attributes the difference to three factors: Gloucestershire's recognition of the value of the voluntary sector; its willingness to back this up with money; and giving charities the mandate to pursue their ideas through votes on the strategic partnership.

"It boils down to people's ability to engage the sector in strategic decision making," Dar says. "Because of that, the sector has been able to organise itself and raise its concerns from its own point of view."

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