Our take on the NAO's follow up report: Some improvements seen, more work needed.

In January 2012, the National Audit Office published a report reviewing ‘Government’s Implementation of the National Compact’. This week, they have published their follow-up looking at the extent to which the recommendations in the original report have been followed.
 
It is somewhat disappointing that the follow up report has been so delayed – it was originally due for publication in late 2013. As a result, it doesn’t necessarily take into account some of the positive developments that have taken place in recent months. 
 
For example, four departments were shortlisted for Compact Awards in 2014 for work they had done in partnership with the voluntary sector. HMRC were awarded for their ‘Needs Extra Help’ service, where they worked closely with voluntary groups to provide tailored support to clients struggling with taxation issues. The Department for Work and Pensions highlighted a number of innovative examples of how JobCentre Plus staff had worked alongside local voluntary groups to meet the needs of their individual communities - including this winning example from Harlesden.
 
Part of our work at Compact Voice is focused on supporting departments to work well in partnership with the voluntary sector (and increasing understanding around why doing so is important). We also work to raise awareness of the benefits of using the Compact, and share positive examples of partnership working. 
 
We highlight examples of how the Compact can help departments to achieve the outcomes they are working towards: by providing a voluntary, mutually agreed framework for their partnership working. 
 
The recommendations in the NAO’s original report have had a really positive impact on the work we do in this area. 
 
Since its publication, every department now has a senior responsible officer for the Compact, and quarterly meetings are held to discuss topical issues and how they relate to partnership working. Compact Voice has been able to build relationships with ‘Compact leads’ across most departments, and these relationships have grown and improved since the publication’s report.
 
That said there is still work to be done when it comes to embedding the Compact in departmental processes: there likely always will be. The NAO’s follow up report draws a heavy focus on increasingly short consultation timeframes, as it states that this is one of the few ‘measurable’ principles of the national Compact. 
 
Consultation periods are steadily getting shorter, and this is worrying. We have worked closely with departments in recent months to mitigate the impact of these pressures: by encouraging meaningful engagement with all relevant stakeholders, especially when there are shorter timescales, and working to ensure departments understand the importance of working with voluntary sector organisations of all sizes.
 
Since the publication of the initial report’s recommendations, we have worked with the Cabinet Office to establish a quarterly Compact forum, and continue to refine these meetings to be as useful as possible to all in attendance.

We have used the forum to run informal sessions on different methods of engaging with voluntary organisations, highlight the unique contribution voluntary sector organisations can bring to policy development, and how voluntary organisations can help to ensure policies and programmes meet the needs of a diverse range of people. 
 

Conversely, we know these relationships work both ways, and have also worked with departments to produce guidance for voluntary organisations to help them to respond to consultations as efficiently and effectively as possible. 
 
We will continue to flag up the need for meaningful consultations, including ensuring adequate timescales: especially when one of the members of our network raises it as an issue with us, or is struggling to respond within the given timeframe. If you are ever in this position, please do tell us: we are able to raise this as an issue directly with the department involved, anonymously if need be.
 
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