Interview: Firming up the Compact

Sir Bert Massie Newly appointed Commissioner for the Compact. Says he will consider rewording the agreement and making it statutory.

Sir Bert Massie
Sir Bert Massie

Sir Bert Massie is clear that he won't be dictated to in his new role as Commissioner for the Compact.

"It would be naive to think that someone like me could be cowed or bullied by people," says Massie, who is former chair of the Disability Rights Commission.

He says he prefers to work alongside people, but makes it clear that he won't shy away from conflict.

"I'm a political fighter and have spent my life fighting for the rights of disabled people," he says. "I can think of many times when ministers have told me something is impossible and then I've smiled while they've been signing the law."

Neither does he waste any time getting to the important subjects. Just four minutes into his first interview about his new job, he brings up the issue of whether the Compact should be backed by statutory powers, which it currently does not have.

"I haven't made up my mind on it yet," he says. "If we were going to make it statutory we would have to be clear that it would add something.

"For most of my career I have used law, and that suggests I believe there is a place for law. But I think what we need to do is make an assessment of how the Compact is working, analyse any cracks and decide on the best way of repairing those cracks - whether the walls need rebuilding or whether Polyfilla will do."

Statutory powers could have adverse effects, he warns. "Would a statutory Compact be at a lower standard than the one that has been agreed to? I don't know, but there is a danger. The other danger then is that people do the absolute minimum; but if they are doing nothing, then the minimum would be a step forward."

Progress will be made to settle this issue over the next 12 months, he predicts. "The Government is committed to taking a view on this by April next year, I understand, and I will certainly have formulated a view before then," he says.

The agreement itself could also be due for an update, says Massie. "The Compact is now 10 years old, and very few Government policies last 10 years," he says. "There might be a case for re-examining the Compact to ensure that, while the concept is undoubtedly relevant, the words are still relevant. Some rewording or rewriting could be helpful."

He also suggests a more radical overhaul of the Compact brand might be necessary to raise its profile because it is not readily understood.

"I think we do need to address it," he says. "We know what the word means, but it doesn't sell itself immediately to the public. We could look for a new name, or look for a strapline that explains the name. That is one thing we need to look at quite quickly.

"We need to tackle the issues of what sort of organisation we want, what sort of Compact we want, what sort of image we want and then look at the mechanisms for achieving that."

Nurturing and improving relations between the public and voluntary sectors is crucial, he says. He suggests that this could include local authorities offering spare places on training courses to voluntary sector partners: "It would improve the ability of the third sector to deliver. You would see people mixing over coffee rather than over a meeting table; that way you start greasing the machinery."

Ultimately, Massie says he wants the agreement to make progress during his tenure. "We will make the arguments and we will be robust," he says. "I hope that in three years, when my tenure comes to an end, the Compact will be known and respected and some of the tensions that surround it will have been relieved."

Massie CV

2008: Commissioner for the Compact

2000: Chair, Disability Rights Commission

2002: Governor, Motability

1996: Deputy chair, National Disability Council

1991: Member of the National Advisory Committee on Employment of
Disabled People

1990: Chief executive, Radar

1986: Member of the Disabled Persons' Transport Advisory Committee

1978: Various roles, Radar

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