Interview: Simon Blake

The chair of Compact Voice tells John Plummer how he has steered the organisation through troubled waters

Compact Voice chair Simon Blake
Compact Voice chair Simon Blake

Simon Blake has turned Compact Voice from a little-known organisation based in the NCVO to an increasingly influential network of 2,200 members, representing the voluntary sector on Compact issues.

Blake, national director of sexual health charity Brook, has chaired the organisation for two and a half years. In the past 12 months, he has seen the Compact rewritten, then breached by former third sector minister Angela Smith, who refused to attend the Compact annual meeting on principle because it was held in London Zoo, and the new government order another rewrite.

From this chaos, Compact Voice has emerged stronger. It is leading the consultation on the second rewrite of the public and voluntary sector agreement, while the Commission for the Compact, which led the first, was on last month's leaked Cabinet Office list of quangos to be axed.

Blake says the commission has "done some really useful things", although its duties, in areas such as communication, research and consultation, overlap with those of Compact Voice.

His organisation's role, he says, is about "representing, enabling and facilitating the views of the sector and negotiating on its behalf". It has received 65 invitations to meetings to discuss the new draft of the Compact. Investigating breaches, he says, should be another organisation's job.

It is hoped the new Compact will be published in time to protect charities from local authorities that fail to consult or give timely notice about cuts after this month's comprehensive spending review. But the Compact, Blake says, is not a panacea for all ills, and the fact that it doesn't always work blinds people to its benefits.

He fears that some organisations could be suffering from Compact consultation fatigue. "It is unfortunate we are so quickly doing it again," he says. "But it's understandable that the government wants to renegotiate the way it works with the sector."

Blake says the new version must win over the cynics, who argue that the Compact's lack of legal status makes it toothless.

"It is at a crossroads," he says. "If we don't get a Compact people are able to work with there will have to be questions about what do we do instead, because if the Compact wasn't there, something would be needed to replace it."

It seems unlikely that Compact Voice will be replaced. It received £1m for 2008-11 from the Office for Civil Society, and is waiting to hear what its new settlement will be. But will Blake be back after his three-year term ends? "All I'm thinking about at this point is getting us through the renewal process," he says.

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