"Sorry, what's the Compact?" It's not an uncommon reaction to questions from Third Sector. But when it's said by a government press officer, it does raise questions about how seriously the agreement has been taken in Whitehall over the past decade. The woman at the Home Office was not the first government spokesperson to be ignorant of the agreement, but her department appears to treat it with the least regard.
In March, the Home Office topped a league of shame based on the number of cases taken up by the NCVO's Compact Advocacy Programme against government departments. The Home Office accounted for 16; the Department for Education and Skills was next with 11.
Then, last month, the Home Office, which was split into separate departments for security and justice in the summer, received another dishonourable mention from the Commission for the Compact in a funding study that analysed how well 41 Government grant streams had adhered to the Compact since 2005.
The Home Office, whose grant programmes include the Communities Fund, had the most one-year funding agreements, which runs counter to the Compact's call for long-term funding. The Department for International Development was praised for having the greatest number of long-term agreements.
Perhaps the most telling line in the report reads: "No department had a consistent approach internally to addressing the funding of overheads and core costs within project funding agreements." This suggests there is no strategic approach to implementing the Compact in Westminster.
The Department of Health seconded third sector representatives to review its funding procedures after being criticised for delaying Section 64 payments in 2006. So what is the Home Office doing to restore its tarnished reputation for treating charities fairly?
The same Home Office spokeswoman later replied in a statement that the Home Office firmly believed that the voluntary sector should be even more involved in the delivery of our services: "We recognise that there are improvements to be made and will continue to work towards this." The message on Compact compliance from the Home Office is, it seems, 'don't hold your breath'.