The hot issues in policy and politics

blog author James AllenA week on from NCVO’s annual conference and I’ve finally tackled my inbox (I think) and fulfilled my promise to post a blog.  The conference was a great success, with hundreds of delegates attending from a hugely diverse range of organisations and it was great that the Compact Voice team spent the day talking to colleagues and contacts from across all sectors.  My colleague Adam Pickering and I were lucky enough to be invited to take part in one of the best attended sessions of the day in discussing ‘hot issues in policy and politics’ with over 100 delegates.
I talked through some of the key issues around public services reform, and the rapidly changing landscape.  We discussed some of the challenges facing organisations from across civil society in public services (noting that the rapid pace of change is a challenge in itself, particularly in the context of rising demand, cuts to public spending and often falling income from other sources).  We know that cuts are having a major impact on the sector and the Compact Voice team are doing all we can to ensure that where cuts are happening, they follow strategic, well-informed decisions where proper consultation has taken place and the principles of the Compact are not an afterthought, but at the centre of the decision-making process.
Alongside public spending cuts and a turbulent and fast moving environment, two other particular challenges I highlighted related to the size of contracts; despite the Government’s stated aim of more diverse public services, contracts are in many instances getting bigger and bigger.  That excludes all but the largest organisations in many cases. 

Payment by results presents major challenges too, particularly for those organisations least able to bear the financial risk of taking on such contracts.  It would be a tragedy if the skills of small, responsive organisations cannot use their skills and experiences to make public services better (and more effective) not because of their service quality, but because of a financial model that excludes them.
The Compact is more important now than ever before, and it can be a useful tool for both commissioners and the VCS in shaping and delivering the services of the future.  Adhering to Compact principles at every stage of the public services decision-making process will help to tackle many significant concerns around service diversity and quality, market management, competition and fairness in financing services head on. 
Delivering more public services will also mean more working with the private sector. One question at the ‘hot issues’ workshop related to when we’ll get a Compact for the private sector.  The short answer, which I gave on the day, is that we have one – it’s called the Compact. The Compact ‘follows the money’ – if a private sector organisation is delivering a public service, at any part of the supply chain, then the Compact applies. 
In his keynote address to the wider conference, Sir Stuart Etherington (NCVO’s chief exec) told us that the time for ‘sniping’ about the Compact had passed and that the priority now is for us all to get behind it.  I couldn’t agree more but, as has been said elsewhere, the Compact can still polarise opinion. So when people ask why they should get behind it, we’re always happy to make the case but we’d really like to hear from you and get the benefit of your experiences. We are always looking for guest bloggers and for stories that can add to our bank of case studies - we’d love to hear from you, just drop us a line.

James Allen
Head of Compact Voice


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