The Office for Civil Society should do more to promote the Compact across Whitehall and spell out exactly what it does to promote the agreement, according to the National Audit Office.
Central Government’s Implementation of the National Compact, a report published today by the spending watchdog, says there is "a lack of clarity" about the OCS involvement with the public-voluntary sector agreement.
It says the department "is responsible for all matters related to the Compact" but neither the Compact document nor the website of the Cabinet Office, which houses the OCS, sets out the nature of these responsibilities.
The OCS is also included in the NAO's recommendation that all the departments it investigated should strengthen their monitoring, leadership, sharing of good practice and conduct of consultations.
The Commission for the Compact, the public body set up to oversee matters relating to the agreement, was abolished by the government in March 2011.
"The OCS’s precise role with regard to the Compact is unclear," the report says. "The OCS was instrumental in launching the renewed Compact. One year on, there is a lack of clarity as to where, centrally, responsibility rests for promoting Compact compliance, increasing awareness, and disseminating good practice.
One department quizzed by the NAO was unsure whether the Cabinet Office or Communities and Local Government department was responsible for the Compact.
The report says the OCS has abandoned regular meetings of departmental civil society champions, which included regular discussions on the Compact.
In January 2010, it also stopped publishing an annual report on the Compact’s implementation, which disseminated good practice.
The OCS does not have a senior officer responsible for oversight of the Compact and estimates that the equivalent of 0.2 full-time staff is applied to the agreement.
The NAO recommends that the OCS explains its responsibilities. "Specifically, it should set out its role with regard to supporting departments and for identifying good practice," it says.
It also urges the OCS to convene a forum that once again brings together people with responsibility for the Compact in Whitehall "to identify and share good practice and consider the merit in an annual cross-departmental meeting, possibly including ministers".
The Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd, said the report showed the Compact was being taken seriously across Whitehall.
"We will continue to ensure the Compact is implemented in a transparent and accountable way across departments on matters relating to the civil society sector," he said. "However, it is each department’s responsibility to ensure adherence to the Compact and each has received guidance on including the Compact in their business plans for 2012."