National leadership from government: Setting the mood music for local partnerships

By Simon Blake, Chair of Compact Voice

This week I was pleased to be invited to be on the panel of All Party Parliamentary Group on Civil Society and Volunteering to discuss the National Audit Office's recent report on central government's implementation of the Compact.  Also on the panel were David Clarke from the NAO, and the Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd. 
David Clarke outlined that the NAO concluded the Compact was not fundamentally flawed, that Whitehall Departments appreciated the principles in the Compact, and that there was still much more that can be done to improve partnership working.
The Minister, Nick Hurd, invited NAO to undertake the review very early in the role, and this was the first time he had spoken publicly specifically about the report. The Minister welcomed the report, and emphasised that he had invited the NAO to undertake the review because they are an authoritative body that is respected. 
It came as no surprise that visible leadership at national level was identified as critical to success.  Leadership is one of the key aspects that our networks and partners say needs to be improved. National leadership from government sets the mood music for local partnerships.
Compact Voice's engagement team have experienced this first hand. After the recent welcome support for the Compact from the Secretary of State for Health, some local partnership groups have been joined by colleagues from health organisations who had never before contributed to such a group.  As the Minister himself said, what happens nationally sets precedence down the line to local communities. And crucially, if people see central government ignoring the Compact, it will make local implementation that much harder.

We were therefore delighted that the Minister set out that the Compact is one of six business plan priorities that government departments must include in their 2011/12 plans. This places the Compact way of working between the third sector and government Compact alongside other key drivers like social mobility, open public services, and growth - which will be at the heart of departmental activities over the next year.  Department Business plans are monitored by No.10 so this is important and is clearly the national leadership we all seek. And lets be clear, the real demonstration of leadership will be how departments actually work with the sector.
Compact Voice and OCS will be working on a joint list of priorities following the publication of the NAO report, and these will be available soon.  Please do keep on sending us your examples of what is working well and what you have learnt from those things that haven’t worked so we can disseminate your learning to others and ensure we have the best chance of making partnerships work – we need them to, now more than ever.
Simon Blake OBE is Chair of Compact Voice and Chief Executive of Brook
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