Focus: Policy and Politics - Government 'committed' to Compact

An independent Compact commissioner is to be created, writes Nathalie Thomas.

The Government reaffirmed its commitment to the Compact on relations with the voluntary and community sector last week at the annual Compact review meeting.

"We're very serious about this whole endeavour," Paul Goggins, Charities Minister, told sector representatives and Government officials.

The Home Office and Compact Working Group announced that an independent Compact commissioner is to be appointed, although the timescale of the appointment is unclear. A similar announcement was made in March.

"The Compact commissioner will be an independent figure who can monitor how the Compact operates and guide public bodies in dealings with voluntary organisations," Goggins explained.

The Compact Working Group, chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly, is to sit on the joint appointment committee, said Helen Edwards, director general of the Home Office communities group. Sir Christopher stressed the need for the commissioner to have "genuine independence".

However, there were also calls from within the voluntary sector for a link between the commissioner and Parliament, in order to introduce an element of accountability. Goggins agreed that there might be some room for flexibility on this point.

The exact remit of the commissioner is yet to be decided, but Edwards suggested that he or she would assume responsibility for assessing the feasibility of an accreditation scheme, as proposed under the Compact Plus. The scheme would accredit or disaccredit, for good or bad practice, voluntary and public sector organisations that have opted into the Compact.

However, Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the NCVO, advised that the scheme should not turn into a stick with which to "beat up the public sector".

He said: "I honestly don't think we're going to get very far with sticks."

Goggins expressed the hope that the accreditation scheme would help establish a system of self-governance, as organisations' reputations come into question.

"In the end we are working on a model of self-regulation here," he advised.

Two action plans to take the Compact to the end of the financial year and beyond were also revealed, and improving the number of public sector bodies involved in Local Compacts was identified as a priority.

KEY POINTS

- The Home Office has announced that a Compact commissioner is to be appointed

- He or she will oversee the operation of the Compact and offer guidance to public sector bodies working with the voluntary and community sector

- Although the full remit of the commissioner is not yet decided, he or she will assess the feasibility of an accreditation scheme linked to Compact Plus.

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