EDITORIAL: Compact has to get bigger teeth to maintain trust


The Compact is supposed to set out a framework for the relationship between government and the voluntary sector. It has been around since 1998 and at the time was the first agreement of its kind.

The problem is, it's hard to find anyone who thinks it is terribly effective.

Charities complain that despite the Government's desire to involve the voluntary sector more closely in its agenda, the relationship is not working nearly well enough. Whitehall departments and other public bodies still shirk their responsibilities, especially when it comes to funding the central overheads incurred when running public contracts.

It's doing nothing to allay the widespread suspicion about what the Government's motives were in the first place - better services, or a way of claiming the credit when things go right and shifting the blame when they go wrong.

Coupled, perhaps, with a bit of cynical manipulation of organisations which are too committed to the end recipients of services to walk away from arrangements which are manifestly unfair.

So the launch of a new body to advise charities about the Compact and to mediate in cases where the relationship has broken down should come as good news. If nothing else, it should help with another important, but less talked-about problem: a lack of awareness and understanding among charities about what the Compact says and does. Greater understanding of the system will encourage organisations to challenge government departments or local authorities which are not adhering to it.

That, however, still will not change the fact that the Compact has no real teeth. Making it legally binding probably is going too far and will benefit few besides the legal profession. But there has to be some mechanism to hold public bodies to account. If the Government fails to be seen to stand up for the Compact then the trust and support of the sector will simply be eroded further.

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