National Audit Office Compact investigation 'too narrow'

Former Compact commissioner Sir Bert Massie says its review won't increase compliance

Sir Bert Massie
Sir Bert Massie

The National Audit Office investigation into the Compact was too limited in scope and will do little to advance the public-voluntary sector agreement, according to Sir Bert Massie, former Commissioner for the Compact.

Massie, who was commissioner until the commission was abolished in March last year, said most Compact activity occurred locally but the NAO had focused on nine central government departments. The spending watchdog has said it will not repeat the exercise.

Massie said there should be an annual report covering local and national Compacts, scrutinised each year by parliament in order to hold departments to account."The report did not come up with a robust procedure that would help the sector to become more Compact-compliant," he said.

Massie said the recommendations were vague, making it easy for departments to avoid doing anything. He said Compact Voice, which represents the voluntary sector on the Compact, faced a tough job using the report to achieve improvements.

He said Compact Voice’s challenges were compounded by the fact that it is not well resourced and is dependent financially on the Office for Civil Society, which was the subject of some of the NAO’s criticisms. Massie wondered to what extent large staff cuts at the OCS had hampered its ability to promote the agreement.

The historian Meta Zimmeck, a researcher for the consultancy Practical Wisdom R2Z, who has studied the Compact, agreed that the OCS no longer had the staff to promote the agreement and doubted whether "its heart was in it".

Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, said in October that the number of staff in the OCS fell from 115 in 2010/11 to 86 in the current financial year.

Zimmeck said the abolition of the Commission for the Compact had in effect killed the Compact and the NAO report was "dancing on its grave".

"If you are going to have a Compact, you need a commission," she said. "Compact Voice is underfunded."

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