Reflecting on the future for partnership working: Compact Voice’s policy recommendations

arrowCompact Voice recently responded to the Labour party consultation “renewing our bond with the third sector”. The consultation, which covered a range of issues from volunteering to procurement to the independence of the sector, is part of a wider policy review which will help Labour develop its manifesto for 2015.

Of course, Compact Voice is not party political - we work to ensure the voluntary sector can form good partnerships with policymakers from across the political spectrum. The Compact also benefits from having cross-party support, initially brought in by the Labour government but renewed by the Coalition in 2010.

The Labour consultation was a chance for us to make recommendations on the future of partnership working in three key areas:

  • Supporting charities to grow and thrive;
  • Procurement; and
  • A strong independent voice.

In the blog below we set out our key proposals in a bit more detail, and reflect on the future for the Compact.

Supporting charities to grow and thrive

As we all know, tough funding decisions have had to be made over the last few years, which has made partnership working more challenging than ever.

Our key recommendations in this area were for a renewed emphasis on: proper consultation (including 12 week formal consultations where appropriate); adequate notice of changes to funding arrangements; and ensuring cuts do not fall disproportionately on the voluntary sector.

By addressing the concerns of civil society on these topics, the next government can help ensure that the services it funds are effective - and that voluntary organisations providing vital services for their community are doing so in a sustainable way.

It’s not all doom and gloom though – our response also highlighted the good work that is already going on. We’re particularly excited about the initiatives which aim to make government more transparent by opening up policy making and data.

For instance, Compact Voice is part of the UK civil society network which helps support the government in fulfilling its commitments under the Open Government Partnership.

Government transparency helps voluntary organisations challenge the existing provision of services, access new markets and hold government to account, and we would like to see the next government continue to push this agenda forward.

Procurement

It is important to remember that the Compact contains undertakings by both government and voluntary organisations; partnership working is about both sectors adapting and accommodating each other for the benefit of society as a whole.

This means voluntary organisations need to adjust to the realities of the environment that we are working in, whether that means forming consortia, diversifying their funding, or measuring impact more effectively. Equally – and as we stated in our response - government must recognise that many voluntary sector organisations cannot participate fully in a world where large payment-by-results contracts are the only funding option available.

The Compact is clear – for the sector to survive in all its diversity there needs to be a range of funding options. In recent years, the difficulties of Payment by Results have been underestimated, while the disadvantages of grants have been overestimated. Government should consider grants, contracts, loan finance, use of premises and so on as viable ways of ensuring smaller organisations are able to participate in delivering services to the diverse communities they work with.

A strong independent voice

The first principle of the Compact is “a strong, diverse and independent civil society”. There are a number of specific issues which will need to be addressed by the next government. In particular, we think serious consideration needs to be given to the how the recent reforms to judicial review, current campaigning rules and the drafting of confidentiality clauses in procurement contracts impacts on the independence of the sector.

A voluntary sector that is able to freely challenge and speak out on issues affecting their service users can bring about vital, positive change to society.

The Compact and the next government

The consultation also provided an opportunity to reflect on the successes of the Compact so far and where it is going next. There is much to celebrate; we are chalking up an ever-growing pile of case studies highlighting good partnership working and our team is working both at national level and local areas around the country to help facilitate, encourage and support use of the Compact.

Of course, the Compact is not an end in itself. Nor are we complacent about the work that remains to be done by both sectors. But at the heart of our work is the belief that better partnerships between government and the voluntary sector have a positive impact on communities – and since the Compact can help support those partnerships, it is worth championing.
 

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