Compact being 'ignored to death'

Report says agreement between public and voluntary sectors has not been sufficiently independent of government

The Compact
The Compact

The Compact, the agreement on how the public and voluntary sectors should work together, is "in danger of being ignored to death", according to a report this week.

Use it or lose it, by the research consultancy group Practical Wisdom R2Z, was commissioned by the Commission for the Compact, which was responsible for monitoring the agreement before it was abolished at the end of last month.

It says observance of the Compact is under threat because of a "thicket of newer and higher-profile initiatives that bypass it" and the closure of the Commission.

"Despite widespread belief that the Compact is 'a good thing', at least in principle, the substantial effort devoted to translating it into reality, and its positive impact, the Compact is currently at low ebb and is in danger of being ignored to death."

The report says that, since 1998, the government unit responsible for the voluntary sector – previously the Home Office’s Voluntary and Community Unit and now the Office for Civil Society in the Cabinet Office – "has not been able to devote sufficient resources to work on the Compact".

It says a high turnover of ministers with responsibility for the sector has also hindered its progress. The number of government ministers at the Compact’s annual meeting has fallen from 11 in 2004 to two in 2010, it says.

The Commission for the Compact was "studiedly independent" in its role as a broker between the government and the sector, it says, but was "hamstrung by lack of authority and lack of independence from the Office for Civil Society".

The organisation should have had to report to a parliamentary committee rather than to ministers, who were at times in breach of the Compact themselves, the report says.

The document also says there are "serious questions" about the independence of Compact Voice, the organisation that represents the voluntary sector on the Compact, from the government and from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which funds and manages it.

"Compact Voice is currently very closely, and perhaps indistinguishably, tied to one of the largest and most thrusting umbrella bodies, and it has no representative legitimacy other than through the consultation and feedback activities, if any, of the organisations of the members of its board," it says. "This is a serious weakness."

In his foreword to the report Sir Bert Massie, the former Compact commissioner, says that unless an "effective mechanism for independent oversight of the Compact’s operation" is put in place, there is a risk of the Compact "becoming worthless and devoid of effectiveness".

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