Compact in action: Breakthrough Britain

The report from the Social Justice Policy Group says the Compact should be strengthened.

"An abject failure", "a squandered opportunity" and "not worth the paper it's written on". The Social Justice Policy Group, chaired by former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, did not pull any punches last month when giving its verdict on the Compact, the voluntary agreement between the public and voluntary sectors.

The forthright views on the agreement were contained in the policy group's 670-page report Breakthrough Britain, which it hopes David Cameron, the current Conservative Party leader, will adopt as party policy at the next General Election.

Not surprisingly, the report highlights how central government, which introduced the Compact in 1998, has been responsible for three-quarters of Compact abuses investigated between 2003 and 2006 by the NCVO's Compact Advocacy Programme.

It also criticises ministers for failing to give the Compact any formal legal powers and calls for higher-grade civil servants in Whitehall to become Compact champions, with responsibility for encouraging their colleagues to take the agreement seriously.

"The Compact's legal status has contributed to an abject failure in achieving the promised full cost recovery, multi-year contracts and other essentials of good funding practice," says the report.

Duncan Smith's team believes the time has come to end the softly-softly approach.

"The group does not believe that more encouragement, education and exhortation will, on their own, be enough to ensure the Compact's potential is fulfilled," the report says. "After 10 years, the time has come for the Compact to be strengthened. This can be done only if the Compact is given greater status and made a higher priority, both in central and local government, and if the Compact commissioner is given more power."

Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the NCVO, says the recommendation to strengthen the Compact is "particularly welcome". Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, also favours formal powers.

A spokesman for the Compact Commission says it disagrees with the Tories' assessment. "The Compact is not about statutory enforcement, but about building better relationships," he says.

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