Editorial: Is this a brave new world for the Compact?

Stephen Cook, editor

After a gestation period rivalling that of the African elephant, the Compact Commissioner has finally appeared in the world.

John Stoker is no infant, however. Depending on your point of view, he is either a wise old head or yesterday's man. He was the last but one head of the Charity Commission at a time when it was getting a worse press than it does today. Before that he had a long career in the civil service, and for the past year he has chaired the London Bombings Relief Charitable Fund. How well does all that qualify him for the job in hand?

Part of his role will be championing the Compact across Whitehall, so his knowledge of the ropes in the civil service should be an advantage.

One of his claims to fame is that he led the review that advised Margaret Thatcher against introducing the poll tax, which must give him a certain amount of credibility. So it seems likely he'll move with confidence through the corridors of power and get the ear of ministers.

The other part of his two-day-a-week role involves understanding and representing the concerns of charities and voluntary organisations in their continuing struggle to get national and local government and public agencies to adhere to the Compact agreements covering consultation, funding and service delivery. The pain, frustration and sense of injustice felt about these issues in parts of the sector may not yet be part of Stoker's direct experience, so it's good that he's starting with an intensive learning tour.

Given that the new post has no real powers beyond those of persuasion, it will be a significant challenge to produce a change in the hitherto creakingly slow progress of the eight year-old Compact. Stoker has the reputation of being reserved and understated. But it's not only big personalities that are persuasive - and anyway, they can be more sound than substance.

Effectiveness behind the scenes may be more appropriate, and much depends on who his full-time chief executive will be.

The announcement of this appointment has been on and off several times recently, and in the absence of any explanation there is bound to be speculation that it has been a tortured decision. But we're on the way now, and the official word is that the Compact is entering a new era.

Stoker will have an office in Birmingham and 20 staff, and his self-declared mission is to change the rules of engagement.

Brave talk: so more power to his elbow.

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