Kevin Curley: The Compact was for a bygone age

The agreement between voluntary and public sectors doesn't merit a place in the sector's toolbox any more, says our columnist

Kevin Curley
Kevin Curley

Another year, another Compact Week and a set of awards for some hard-working local activists. But does anybody really care about the Compact any more? Since it was introduced in 1998, it has spawned a sizeable industry of guidance, training, awards and Compact officers of various sorts in councils around the country - though most have now fallen victim to the cuts. Even the 'renewed' version, published in 2010, reads like a document prepared for a New Labour age, with its emphasis on partnership and "an equal and fair society". It doesn't seem to fit well with increasing competition, private sector subcontracting to the sector and disheartening charity-private sector consortia running prisons.

I thought it was time to ask some local sector leaders what they think of the Compact, 14 years on. Kim Harper, who runs Community Action Derby, told me she had pulled out of the Compact Forum in her city. "The cuts have meant that there is little or no meaningful discussion with the sector and any success we have had in tackling big issues has not been because of the Compact," she said.

In Sefton, CVS chief executive Angela White was more succinct: "The Compact is a paper tiger - it's always been toothless." However, Sally Yeoman, who leads St Helens Voluntary and Community Action, was upbeat. "The Compact isn't used much now because its principles are embedded fairly well in the way people behave," she said.

The most positive assessment came from Paul Tolley, chief executive of Warwickshire Community and Voluntary Action. "The Compact has ensured that the effects of central government cuts to the sector have been planned and managed, rather than just imposed," he told me.

In my time as chief executive of Navca, we surveyed local sector leaders every year. I was always relieved that slightly more than half of the leaders agreed that it had made a positive difference to the quality of relationships with local statutory bodies. I say relieved because Navca, like 20 other infrastructure bodies, was paid by the Cabinet Office to promote the Compact. When that grants programme ends in March 2014, I predict there will be much less Compact promotion in England.

Every local sector leader needs tools in their box when they walk into a meeting with their council or clinical commissioning group representatives. These days I would have my copy of the Department for Communities and Local Government's Best Value Statutory Guidance at the top of my box - ignore that and Eric Pickles gets nasty with the council. Beneath that would be the Public Services (Social Value) Act, the public sector equality duty guidance and my handbook on how to use public law to challenge public bodies that fail to consult legally. At the bottom of my box would be my old copy of the Compact. It was written for a different age - maybe it's time to put it into the archives.

Kevin Curley is a voluntary sector adviser

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