Compact crap

I don’t know if either of my readers (Hi mum! Hi dad!) are familiar with the Compact – the understanding between government and the voluntary sector about how they work together.

To say that the Compact is totally toothless and pretty pointless would be an understatement. Anything that is voluntary, is not legally binding and has content that is not legally enforceable should rightfully be considered rubbish, this indeed nicely describing what the Compact is.

Generally speaking, my understanding of the Compact is that it is a good opportunity for the usual types to get together and waffle on about what they plan to do, eat a few free sandwiches and have virtually no impact on the day-to-day reality of relationships between central/local government and the voluntary sector, particularly when it comes to funding.

Nevertheless, I’m sure you’ll be reassured to know that a draft new version of the Compact is being published today, just a year after it was “refreshed”. As Third Sector puts it:

The document is being renewed urgently because of October’s comprehensive spending review. It is hoped the new version will contain measures that prevent government departments treating charities unfairly when spending cuts take effect.

Those doing the hoping can hope all they like: the Compact, refreshed or not, won’t make a trifle bit of difference in seeing off the threat of public sector cuts impacting on the voluntary sector.

Three other points to make:

  1. The draft version is going to be subject to a six-week consultation, and will be ratified in, erm, November. The Comprehensive Spending Review is in October and significant funding decisions impacting on the voluntary sector have already been taken in-year, with the existing Compact making not the slightest bit of difference.
  2. The chair of Compact Voice, Simon Blake, said: “A new government with a new agenda wants to ensure the Compact fits with its approach.” Which is why, I presume, everyone has left it 5 months since the new government came to power to have a look at this.
  3. The Commission for the Compact, which relates to Compact Voice I know not how, will not be involved in the renewal. Ironically enough, the commission itself will have its future determined by the government’s review of quangos.

The astute amongst you will have heard David Cameron at PMQs last week and assume the voluntary and community sector has nothing to worry about. After all, this sounds like a huge vote of confidence:

When it comes to looking at and trimming your budgets, don’t do the easy thing, which is to cut money to the voluntary bodies and organisations working in our communities. Look at your core costs. Look at how you can do more for less. Look at the value for money you get from working with the voluntary sector.

With such warm words, you could be forgiven for thinking a Compact – refreshed, renewed or whatever – simply isn’t needed.

We all know the reality will be a tad different, and a Compact – even one with flashing lights and a free all-over body rub – isn’t going to make the slightest bit of difference to the cuts that are already taking hold.


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Man of letters & numbers; also occasionally of action. Husband to NTW. Dad of three. Friendly geek.

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