Statement from Simon Blake, Chair of Compact Voice in response to Eric Pickles’ speech

At NCVO's annual conference on 1 March, Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, made an important announcement in his speech about how he expects local government to work with local voluntary and community sector organisations. Compact Voice's Chair, Simon Blake responds.
 
In his speech, the Secretary of State stated three reasonable expectations:
  1. Councils should not pass on disproportionate cuts to voluntary and community groups.
  2. Councils should talk to voluntary and community groups at an early stage about how services may need to change.
  3. Councils should give at least three months notice for changes to funding, grants or any other support.
After outlining these expectations, Mr. Pickles said: "If councils are being high-handed, I’ll consider giving our reasonable expectations statutory force.”
  
Many will recognise how closely the expectations he describes align to the principles of the Compact, which was updated and published last December and supported across government. Both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister expressed their commitment to the Compact in supportive forewords which accompanied the new document.
 
The Compact establishes clear principles on managing changes to funding relationships, and proper and meaningful consultation, as well as many other vital undertakings which government has agreed to follow. Local Compacts have been signed up to across the whole of England, and establish the importance of these principles being applied locally.
 
Compact Voice represents the voluntary sector on the Compact, and we have been providing examples of good practice to the Secretary of State’s department, many of which were recognised in his speech. We have also been providing examples of where the Compact has been breached at both local and national level; the picture is inconsistent across the country.
 
What we have seen is that areas which have followed the principles of the Compact have been able to deliver the reasonable expectations the Secretary of State describes. Where Compact principles have been ignored or breached, we have seen those expectations challenged. While we know the Compact is not a panacea, we do know that it has genuinely led to better outcomes when its principles have been followed.  

Mr Pickles joins the long list of senior government figures - including the Prime Minister, Francis Maude, Nick Hurd, and Greg Clark – who have publically stated that the voluntary and community sector should not be sacrificed because of the current financial climate. 

While we welcome any measures which seek to help provide greater protection for the voluntary and community sector during these difficult times, we are concerned that the Secretary of State is missing a vital opportunity to stand behind the Compact.
 
Strengthening and embedding the expectation that Compact principles should be followed locally would mitigate the need for additional guidance from the Secretary of State or his Department, and we encourage him to declare this support. Many in the voluntary and community sector champion the Compact in their operations, and will be dismayed that his speech seemed to recognise the vital role that Compact principles have without clearly indicating an expectation that they should be followed.
 
The Secretary of State must stand firmly and squarely behind all of the principles of the Compact, and embed it into everything he says and does, including issuing guidance, introducing legislation, national consultations, and providing support to or communicating with local decision makers. Through such strong support and leadership from the Secretary of State – and his colleagues across government – many of the “grave concerns” he expressed about local councils could be alleviated.
 
We hope that Mr. Pickles’ words result in immediate action, and encourage him to commit to showing his support for the Compact by explicitly emphasising the importance of both recognising and following Compact principles locally.
 
We also expect clarity about when and how he will consider statutory measures to address areas where those principles have been breached, which could serve to strengthen the Compact.
 
As stated, we welcome any measures which offer greater protection to voluntary and community sector organisations. However, if local and national government simply followed the principles of the Compact, the negative consequences we are all concerned about would be avoided.

Simon Blake,

Chair of Compact Voice
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