COMPACT WEEK SPECIAL: Should the Compact be made compulsory?

DAVID EVANS, project officer, economic & environmental policy, Local Government Association - NO

With the vast majority of local authorities now engaged in developing a Local Compact - only about 50 of the 388 in England have yet to start work on one - where is the need for compulsion?

Compacts are about building relationships and changing behaviour. They work best where there is genuine commitment from both sides to bring about improvements in the partnership. This is achieved by showing how better working relationships between the voluntary and community sector and local authorities will help them engage better with their communities and lead to improved services. This can only be achieved through consent rather than coercion.

Imposing compacts on the voluntary and community sector and local authorities will not bring about an improvement in relationships, nor will it result in better services. It would be counterproductive to force a contract on the two parties. It will undermine the independence of the voluntary and community sector and lead to more bureaucracy and higher costs, with everyone having to show that they are working 'in the spirit of the compact'.

We shouldn't be distracted, there is a need to move on and look at quality, not quantity. We need to build on Local Compacts so that they can help improve public services and benefit local communities.

KEVIN CURLEY, chief executive, NACVS - YES

In many parts of England a locally agreed Compact between the voluntary and community sector and the local authority is making a difference.

In York, the Compact Funding Code was used to deal with problems caused for local groups by late decisions on grants. And in Reading, a 'charter of good practice' is improving the treatment of volunteers.

Better treatment for voluntary organisations and volunteers results in better services for local people. Government wants this and so does the sector. Every primary care trust must have a Compact in place by April 2004, so why do we allow some local authorities to get away with not adopting a Compact?

A Compact should not be an option. Its existence and use should be subject to Audit Commission inspection as part of the Comprehensive Performance Assessment process and an Annual Compact Report should be submitted by every local authority to the Home Office.

No local authority should be given a satisfactory inspection assessment unless a Compact is in place and working.

Government now rightly insists that all local public bodies work in partnership with the voluntary sector. The Compact is the contract which underlies that partnership; after five years of talking about the Compact it's time to insist that every local authority signs up.

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