Government departments could do more to support Compact, finds NAO report

National Audit Office investigation finds 40 per cent of consultations fail to meet 12-week target

National Audit Office
National Audit Office

The National Audit Office has said most government departments support the Compact in principle but "could do more" to embed the public-voluntary sector agreement in their work.

Central Government’s Implementation of the National Compact, published by the spending watchdog today, said there was little evidence that Compact implementation was "fundamentally flawed".

But it says: "There is a need, however, for departments to strengthen their approach with regard to monitoring, leadership, sharing good practice and consultations."

It says departments claimed the Compact was embedded in their work but the NAO could not "verify this is the case". Examples of good practice were "patchy" and departments "could do more", the report says.

The NAO investigated nine Whitehall departments last year as part of a one-off exercise following a request by Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society.

Its delayed report contains several criticisms of the Office for Civil Society, most notably a lack of clarity about what it does to promote the agreement.

It also highlights some specific areas of concern, such as a widespread failure across government to meet the agreement’s 12-week consultation period.

The NAO reviewed nine central government departments’ consultations that had taken place since the renewal of the Compact at the end of 2010.

"Of the 209 consultations, 40 per cent did not meet the 12-week period," the report says. "Of these, 54 per cent did not appear to provide an explanation as to why the consultation period was less than 12 weeks."

The report revealed only two of the nine departments had an external webpage about the Compact, and said departments were "not in a position to provide a meaningful statement on Compact implementation in their 2012/13 business plans".

Hurd has hailed the statements as part of a series of measures that will make the Compact more effective.

Eight of the nine departments said they had not received or were not aware of any complaints about their implementation of the Compact, although the report said complaints were not an accurate indication of compliance.

The report recommends government departments show greater leadership on the Compact and ensure consultations last 12 weeks or provide a clear explanation of why not.

It also recommends greater monitoring and reporting of Compact implementation.

As part of its study, the NAO ran a 12-day consultation with the voluntary sector in November. It received just three responses, all from umbrella bodies.

The report says the review of the Compact "will not be repeated in subsequent years", but Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of National Council for Voluntary Organisations, urged the NAO to "conduct a follow up study next year to see whether its recommendations have been acted upon".

Etherington said: "We expect the recommendations to be implemented in full and will be looking to the Office for Civil Society to take the lead on this."

Simon Blake, chair of Compact Voice, which represents the voluntary sector on the Compact, urged ministers to implement the report’s recommendations in full.

"In particular the report highlights that there needs to be more visible leadership on the Compact both in OCS and across Whitehall," said Blake.

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