Government criticised for failing to follow Compact

David Clarke of the National Audit Office says consultations are often too short and people want to know why

David Clarke
David Clarke

Government departments were criticised yesterday for not explaining why they sometimes run consultations of less than 12 weeks, as the Compact requires.

The National Audit Office’s recent investigation into nine government departments’ implementation of the Compact found that 40 per cent of consultations did not meet the 12-week period and of those, 54 per cent did not provide an explanation why.

David Clarke, a director at the National Audit Office, highlighted the issue as one of the spending watchdog’s main areas of concern at a meeting yesterday of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Civil Society and Volunteering.

"If they don’t take as long as the Compact says, all people want to know is why," said Clarke.

Simon Blake, chair of Compact Voice, which represents the voluntary sector on the Compact, said 12-week consultations were a "totem" for a Compact way of working.

"That doesn’t mean it’s always going to be possible or desirable, but it does mean where it isn’t, people have to be able to explain it," said Blake.

Nick Hurd, minister for Civil Society, told the meeting that consultation was an obvious area for improvement.

"As a minister, I know there is an instinct to try to drive change and rush a process of consultation, but clearly there has been too much of that and too little explanation why," said Hurd.

Hurd said he was pleased the NAO concluded that implementation of the Compact was not "fundamentally flawed" but acknowledged that government "can do better".

He said the Office for Civil Society would work with Compact Voice to "agree actions that flow from the NAO report to help departments do better".

He said the coalition government had enhanced the Compact, in contrast to his predecessor, Labour’s Angela Smith, who breached it.

"The Prime Minister in his first week said we need to make it bite," said Hurd.

He said since then the Compact had been refreshed to "reflect the priorities of the new government" and had benefited from a series of measures to improve its accountability and transparency.

Labour MP Alun Michael, who chaired the meeting, asked Hurd whether he thought the Compact should also reflect changes in the sector’s priorities. Hurd replied that in principle he did.

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