Busting myths about the Compact

Following the conclusion of the research we commissioned recently into perceptions and insights on the Compact and Compact Voice (some details of which we’ve shared in another recent blog), Compact Voice have been doing a bit of reflecting and reviewing.
My first reaction on looking at the responses we received from the research was to say a huge thank you to everyone who was interviewed by the researchers, to those who came to the panel session we held at the House of Lords in February and to those who completed our online survey.
My second thought was that our work is not yet done. Although most people gave positive and useful feedback about Compact Voice’s activities, there are still a few misunderstandings out there about the Compact. 
I’ve decided to do some good old-fashioned myth-busting. Taking my cue from the 5 Compact principles, I have – hopefully – busted 5 of the myths I hear most:

1. It’s just about funding. 

It’s not supposed to be, although given the scale of funding cuts seen in recent years and the consequent inevitable focus on funding relationships, it’s not hard to see where this comes from. 
What the Compact is supposed to be, though, is much broader – I’ve heard it described recently as a document on “how to play nice”. I wouldn’t describe it quite like that, although that did make me smile. 
The Compact sets out the basis for positive partnership working: it talks about, among other things, equal treatment across the sectors, involving the voluntary sector in policy design from an early stage, openness, transparency, proportionality, encouraging good consultation practice and providing feedback, advancing equality and respecting the independence of the sector. All good stuff, I’m sure most of you will agree.

2. It’s just there for when things go wrong. 

When we’re out and about talking about partnership working, we start with “use the Compact at the start of your relationships”. 
We’ve published a case study recently looking at the process of refreshing a local Compact, which resulted not only in the launch of a new Compact document, but also the development of a number of partnership projects. 
This is evidence that the simple act of getting people in a room to talk about how they can work together now and in the future is both positive and powerful. 
In the event that things do go wrong though, the Compact can frame a conversation to resolve any differences and, for example, help examine any processes that were used poorly or not at all and get the relationship back on track.

3. It has no teeth. 

Yes and no. Aside from the pedant’s answer that it’s a document and it has no mouth, let alone teeth, it is true to say that it has no statutory force. However, it is also true to say parts of the Compact are underpinned by statutory instruments, namely Best Value Guidance and the Social Value Act
It’s also been recognised under Public Law and cited in a couple of Judicial Reviews
I think it’s a case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” - the Compact would be equally criticised if it were legally enforceable and such a move would be contrary to the spirit of co-operation and positivity around partnership working that the Compact is there to support. 

4. It ignores the private sector. 

This is not strictly true. Firstly, the Compact deals with sub-contracting and statutory sector funding distribution via the private sector – see principles 3.9 and 3.11
Secondly, it was never intended to be used as an instrument for a purely financial relationship – it’s not an alternative to a contract. 
Having said that, it does sit alongside the Department for Work and Pension’s Merlin Standard, and the Merlin Standard complements the Compact. 
DWP have asked Compact Voice to be included in the process of reviewing Merlin in the coming months, something we’re pleased to be included in. 
Thirdly, positive partnership working should be inclusive and we encourage local Compact groups to welcome anyone engaged with and working in their local community. There are already local Compacts (such as in Herefordshire) which have private sector partners, and we expect to see more of this in the coming years.

5. “No one is at the start of the relationship anymore, the Compact has been around since 1998”. 

This is something I heard quite recently, appropriately enough via Twitter. This genuinely took me by surprise. 
At its most simple, the Compact is there to help the conversations that take place when the voluntary sector and the statutory sector come together. 
When there are new bodies (or actors or players or whatever you prefer to call them) being created that occupy that space, of course there are a whole new set of conversations, relationships and partnerships. 
When and where those conversations take place, the Compact can be used to support them. Compact Voice is actively supporting engagement with new partners including Police and Crime Commissioners and Clinical Commissioning Groups
I don’t know if anyone will read this blog post and reconsider their view of the Compact – wait, don’t accuse me of being defeatist just yet – as I think part of the problem is that very few people actually read the Compact
It was paid a lot of attention when it was renewed in 2010 but it may be the case that you haven’t looked at it since.

Next time you’re tempted to say what the Compact is or isn’t, does or doesn’t do, have a quick read first – you might be surprised by just how useful its principles can be. Or check in with us… strange as it may sound to you, we like talking about the Compact and the power of positive partnerships (and we’ve definitely all read it!).

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