Compact Commissioner 'might be given some statutory power'

Mathew Little

John Stoker, the Compact Commissioner, could be given statutory powers if he needs them, the Compact annual meeting heard last week.

Ed Miliband, the third sector minister, admitted that the Government still had "a huge amount to do" on implementing the Compact. He raised the question of Stoker's statutory backing and said: "I don't rule out anything about the way John's role needs to unfold."

There have been calls for the Compact Commissioner to be given the power to rule on disputes between public bodies and charities, although change is not expected before the end of Stoker's first three-year term.

Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the NCVO, said it was too early to tell if the commissioner would need extra powers. "We should review it," he said.

"If John feels he needs more powers, we should be prepared to take the necessary steps."

He added that the NCVO "rarely had to go into battle" with government departments any more over the need for the Compact. "But we need to go a step further," he said. "How do we shape the architecture of government departments so that it's part of their DNA?"

Stoker told the meeting that he did not regard himself as performing the role of ombudsman. "The commissioner was not set up to be an ombudsman, but I may look at individual cases in exceptional circumstances where there are wide implications," he said. He also quashed perceptions that he might act as a champion of the sector in dealing with public bodies. "I am between the two sectors and will act accordingly," he said.

Christopher Kelly, chair of Compact Voice, said he was optimistic about the future of the Compact, but warned it would face challenges at local level as reductions in public spending began to bite. "I expect the climate to get more difficult as local authorities face pressure on their spending," he said. "The Compact will really be tested over the next period."

KEY POINTS

- Ed Miliband told the Compact annual meeting last week that commissioner John Stoker could be given some statutory powers

- NCVO chief executive Stuart Etherington said it was too early to determine whether extra powers were necessary

- Stoker told the meeting that he did not regard himself as an ombudsman or sector champion

- No changes are expected before the end of Stoker's first term in 2009.

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