OPINION: Compact must fuel flames of sector's future

Bonfire night has left my mind full of fire-related imagery, puns, lyrics and the odd constructive thought. Although the phrase, 'to light a fire under someone' is intended to suggest galvanising them into action, it doesn't always work that way - just ask Joan of Arc. Another phrase I like - and one which has a certain urgency to it - is the 'burning decks' approach to change - that is, forcing change by making it impossible for the status quo to continue or, as David Bowie sang, "putting out the fire with gasoline".

I was reminded, by a play I saw last week, that we Brits are good at pulling together in the face of adversity. Which is handy because, at the moment, the Government has several decks burning under us in its efforts to deliver better public services.

Regulators like the Audit Commission, Ofsted and others have realised that ticked boxes often bear little resemblance to customer satisfaction levels or the quality of the service. As a result, they are exploring ways of improving both quality and consistency. The voluntary sector, conversely, may not be as hot on check lists, but has a lot to offer if its capacity is viewed in terms of measurable outcomes. Although smaller charities and community groups may struggle to pull together and qualify their direct experience of consumer need and reaction, they could be helped by the bigger charities investing in them, thereby both building more capacity and avoiding fuelling fragmentation in the sector.

Forcing change brings its own problems, though. In an ideal world we would like to think that change is well planned but we all know darned well that in reality it is often not the case, especially when it takes place at a rapid rate. As John F Kennedy noted, "everything changes but change itself".

So my proposition to ignite the imagination of both government and the voluntary sector is turn up the heat and make the Compact work. This, with the development of strategic partnerships can spark off real innovation, which leads to real, meaningful change. Initiatives such as Futurebuilders can help us cut through a lot of the bureaucracy, chop out much of the departmental deadwood and create beacons of hope for truly effective and relevant services across the country. Geraldine Peacock is a charity commissioner and a civil service commissioner

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