Is this the end of stories about the end of the Compact?

james allenProbably not.
Another week, another policy change in government and so this must mean the end of the Compact, right?
The agreement signed in 1998, which has survived the change of government.
The agreement redrafted in 2010, which central government has established as one of its six cross cutting priorities.
The agreement that over 82% of respondents to our 2012 Annual Survey agreed was still important, and needed to be implemented.
The Government already announced during the summer that there would be a move away from a default of three-month consultation periods – a move that we commented on at the time.
In an ideal world, all consultations would run for this long. All consultations would fully involve all relevant sectors, individuals and communities. However, this isn’t an ideal world. This is the world that we’re actually in, trying to improve the environment for the voluntary sector as much as possible.
Our absolute focus is on meaningfully changing this environment, and for what it’s worth, I think it’s a mistake to value the process (such as the length of consultation) over the quality of the engagement.
Also, for what’s it worth and as we’ve said before, the Compact explicitly makes allowances for occasions when consultations are shorter.
One of the frustrations of this job is dealing with a difficult environment, with spending cuts and a tough overall operating environment hitting the voluntary sector hard and stopping many great organisations from reaching their full potential. It’s of course a frustration that these challenges mean that some beneficiaries miss out and that many organisations are having to scale back their activities, with some closing altogether.
On a personal level, however, the most frustrating thing is reading with depressing regularity about the Compact’s demise.
There is surely an irony in the fact that the same people that so often proclaim the Compact’s death are also those who seek to champion the sector the most, but in running the Compact down without an awful lot of constructive comment, alternative solutions or indeed evidence are unlikely to be helping organisations on the frontline who are struggling.
Of course, the Compact is not perfect. Nor is it the complete solution or a panacea to the sector’s woes.
What it is, however, is a tangible, useful, practical tool.
It can act as a means of leverage for the sector when it’s used well, but a constant drip of stories about its death, in the face of considerable evidence to the contrary, makes things harder for our sector and not easier.
By all means, let’s have a debate about how it can be improved. Let’s have an open discussion about other ways that we can support the sector. No one in the Compact Voice team (and it’s a small team trying to cover an awful lot of ground) thinks that we or the Compact are perfect. What we do recognise though, and what we have provided plenty of evidence of is that the Compact is still widely valued and used.

In the last 12 months, this is a quick summary of what’s happened centrally (more detail on this broken down by department is here):

November – December 2011
The National Audit Office (NAO) investigates government departments through interviews and analysis of their activities relating to the Compact, as part of its review of central government’s implementation of the Compact.

January 2012 
NAO publishes report following its review, including recommendations for various government departments.

February 2012
Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society, announces that No. 10 has made the Compact one of the cross-departmental themes for business plans.
Gareth Thomas MP, Shadow Minister for Civil Society, tables Parliamentary Questions asking ‘what contribution the Department is making to implementation of the Compact with the voluntary sector.’

March – May 2012
Compact Voice works with a number of central government departments on the development of their business plans.

March 2012
Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society, writes to all government departments, promoting the importance of the Compact and the principles of meaningful engagement.

April 2012
Compact Voice and the Office for Civil Society agree a joint-action plan to promote and support the Compact across government departments.

June 2012
Government departmental business plans are published and make explicit reference to the Compact.

July 2012
Compact Voice submits Freedom of Information requests to government departments, seeking information on the implementation of Compact and partnership principles on spending and engagement.
 BIS and Cabinet Office update Code of Practice on Consultation, making specific reference to supporting and promoting the principles of the Compact across government departments.

September 2012
Cabinet Office updates its procurement pledge to recognise the principles of the Compact across government departments when procuring goods and services.
Gareth Thomas MP, Shadow Minister for Civil Society, tables Parliamentary Questions on how government departments have taken into account the recommendations of the National Audit Office’s report.

October 2012
Compact Voice publishes report analysing the responses to Freedom of Information requests to central government departments.

November 2012
Compact Week is held.
Andrew George MP tables an Early Day Motion seeking support for the principles of the Compact.

Locally, of course it is a mixed picture. It’s always been a mixed picture and some areas implement and embed the Compact in decision making far better than others.
Where it is most successful, this is down to dedicated, tireless work. That hard work is a lot harder, incidentally, than climbing aboard the old hobby horse to tweet/blog/text/write that it’s all pointless and that we might as well give up. 
In advance of the inevitable backlash and flurry of comments about how the Compact is of course dead and useless, perhaps let’s have a debate about the list of things that have happened in the last year first.
Tell me what other mechanism would have been more effective for achieving those. Show me examples of where the absence of the Compact has improved relationships either locally or centrally.
In the coming weeks, we will be publishing the report of the Freedom of Information requests we issued to local authorities. Without spoiling the surprise, that report will show that there is some way to go in a number of areas.
Our focus - as always - will be on working as hard as we can to make a difference to those areas. We know that we have the majority of the sector’s support in that endeavour, but it would be great if we could also have a more constructive debate with our critics. 

James Allen, Head of Compact Voice

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