Compact Week: For ... Fiona Mactaggart - This is the way to better local collaborations

In Compact Week you might expect a government minister to proclaim the Compact to be a success. After all, 91 per cent of all local authorities have signed up to a Compact, or are close to it. The most recent Compact AGM brought government ministers from nine departments together with the voluntary sector, demonstrating the commitment to it.

But making the leap from stating the public sector's commitment to working in partnership with voluntary organisations to actually doing it is where the test of this process really lies. Trevor Askew, operational services corporate director for Stratford on Avon District Council, said recently: "The danger is that it's easy to talk about strategy without really engaging with the voluntary sector. We wanted to really understand where the sector was coming from so that we could make a real difference to how we worked with it. The Compact was useful because it provided us with the framework.

But the key to making it work is to get as many people as possible engaged in the process and talking to each other."

And it cannot end with talk. The relationship needs to be played out in action.

I think that the Compact has given the voluntary sector and local authorities a good, practical focus for getting people round the table to sort out how to improve local services and spend money more wisely. For Councils for Voluntary Service, it may have improved their working relationships and helped them to get more structured funding in place. As a result, funding is more likely to be targeted appropriately. Where there is already a good relationship between the council and the CVS, the Compact can strengthen it. Where relationships are starting to come unstuck, it can unite organisations behind common goals. And where local relationships need to improve, the Compact can provide a lever for change.

Simply signing up to a Compact doesn't achieve anything. When the Compact is seen as the starting point for developing a better working relationship, it can quickly lead to improvements at ground level. But where it has not done so, we must learn the lessons and decide what changes we need to make the Compact work better.

Fiona Mactaggart is Parliamentary undersecretary at the Home Office.

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