Editorial: Action time on the Compact

There is no sound excuse for ministers not to introduce statutory powers for the Commission for the Compact, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook
Stephen Cook

Sir Bert Massie is probably being realistic when he concludes that legislation to give statutory powers to the Commission for the Compact is unlikely to happen for several years yet.

Labour MP Tom Levitt has introduced a private member's bill that would establish the commission as a statutory agency and give it the small set of teeth everyone agrees it should have. But there is little expectation that the Government will adopt it and it is so far down the list of private bills that it is unlikely to make it under its own steam.

Ministers and shadow ministers alike have been putting out the message recently that the next government will be so busy reining in and repairing the public finances that the voluntary sector is unlikely to get any extra money in the foreseeable future and is more likely to face cuts. Distinctions are being made between 'must-have' and 'nice-to-have' initiatives, and Compact legislation is apparently being dropped into the latter bag.

But is this a state of affairs that the sector should quietly put up with? Both the main parties have accepted the argument that beefing up the Compact is, among other things, a vital element in their drive to improve third sector participation in public service delivery. Another important consideration is that the commission was set up in a hurry as a limited company with the minister as sole shareholder, and its independence will remain in doubt unless it is given a proper statutory footing and made answerable to Parliament.

Massie is making some sound and purposeful moves to make the Compact more meaningful and democratic even without the benefit of legislation. His latest proposals will help to rescue it from its relative obscurity and really get it on the map. But at the end of the day, legislation will be the clincher, and there is no sound excuse for politicians to back away from bringing it on.

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