Compact in action: Tower Hamlets Council

The London borough has developed an 'internal Compact' for voluntary organisations only.

First, there was the Compact, which outlines how public and voluntary organisations should behave towards each other. Now Tower Hamlets Council has gone one step further by introducing a similar agreement describing how voluntary organisations in the London borough should treat each another.

The council's Voluntary and Community Organisations Memorandum of Understanding commits signatories to shared aims and principles. These include working collectively, encouraging local charities to deliver local services and avoiding competition and duplication.

Underpinning the memorandum is an understanding that voluntary organisations share a common goal: "to improve the quality of life for everyone living and working in the borough".

Sheikh Rahman, head of Tower Hamlets Community Empowerment Network, introduced the four-page document eight months ago. The Local Strategic Partnership will now award small grants only to third sector groups that have signed up to the agreement.

"The memorandum is about working together," says Rahman. "One of the reasons the Compact isn't working is that there isn't an agreement between voluntary organisations in the first place."

The memorandum's call for organisations to "avoid domination by any particular organisation" and to "avoid competition" could be seen as a charter for protecting weak organisations. But Rahman says it is a realistic response to the situation in Tower Hamlets, which has numerous voluntary organisations bidding for the same contracts.

"It's about getting 20 organisations to build a bid together rather than oppose each other," he says, adding that not-for-profit organisations should not lose sight of the fact that they exist to help service users and that collaboration is often the best way to achieve that.

Carl Allen, chair of Local Compact Voice, says the document serves as a kind of "internal Compact" that pushes forward the boundaries of best practice on sector-wide collaboration. "If we are going to have a Compact way of working between groups and public bodies, then that needs to be the way we work among ourselves too," he says.

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