Shadow Minister for Civil Society raises Parliamentary Questions on the Compact

House of commonsThe Shadow Minister for Civil Society, Gareth Thomas, raised a series of questions in the House of Commons this week which were in relation to the government’s implementation of the Compact. The answers outline each department’s commitment to Compact and how they are considering that more needs to be done in light of the findings of the NAO’s recent report into Compact Implementation.

The answers also reiterate that the Compact will be embedded in departmental business plans going forward.

The following questions were answered on 31 January 2012.

Click on the Department name below to read their response.

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)

Mr Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills what contribution his Department is making to implementation of the Compact with the voluntary sector; and if he will make a statement.

Mr Davey: The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) signed up to the renewed Compact published in December 2010. The Department's Further Education (FE) and Skills Directorate has a nominated member of its senior management team as the third sector lead who is also a member of the BIS Big Society Programme Board.

Similarly, the Skills Funding Agency (a partner organisation of BIS) has a senior responsible officer (SRO) for civil society organisations. BIS recognises and values the role that the third sector can play across all parts of the FE and skills system in the successful delivery of learning and skills, particularly in supporting those furthest away from learning and employment. FE and Skills within BIS works widely with the third sector, particularly through a highly consultative dialogue with the Third Sector National Learning Alliance (TSNLA) to ensure that third sector interests are appropriately taken into account in a systematic way.In addition to regular bilateral and trilateral meetings with BIS FE and Skills, and the Skills Funding Agency, there is membership and direct representation on all relevant BIS, Skills Funding Agency and joint Skills Funding Agency/YPLA advisory groups.

This working dialogue continues all year round to help shape our understanding, implementation and evaluation of policy and guidance and its impact on the sector. Additional to this, the Skills Funding Agency and the TSNLA have established a protocol, which provides a framework for joint working between the Skills Funding Agency and the wider voluntary sector.

BIS is commissioning research from the Learning and Skills Improvement Service to identify what barriers stand in the way of achieving Government's ambitions for the third sector to play its full role in both learning and skills and in building the Big Society. 

Supported by TSNLA, the Learning and Skills Improvement Service is now working closely with and opening up their services to voluntary sector providers. In the consumer voluntary sector, BIS sponsors both Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland—the umbrella bodies for the Citizens Advice service across England and Wales and in Scotland. It provides core grant in aid funding to both these charities under S.274 of the Enterprise Act.

Our funding enables those bodies to provide essential central services to their customers, the network of Citizens Advice Bureaux (IT, information, training of staff and volunteers, management services).

In return, this enables the service to feed back to central Government real time data on the issues facing people on a wide number of social policy issues.

Department for Education

Gareth Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Education what contribution his Department is making to implementation of the Compact with the voluntary sector; and if he will make a statement.
 
Sarah Teather: The Department for Education signed up to the renewed Compact published in December 2010, and recognises both the benefits and the importance of the Compact to its relationship with the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector. Over the last year, the Department for Education has taken a number of actions to ensure the Compact is being implemented, including: 

  • Monitoring consultation lengths to ensure consultations with the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector (VCSE) are 12 weeks where possible;
  • Incorporating the Compact into its internal guidance on matters such as the Making Policy Framework, and its Compact compliant guidance for staff to consider when entering into a grant funded relationship with the VCSE sector;
  • Monitoring departmental Compact compliance, via the number of complaints received about the implementation of the Compact;
  • Participating in the NAO's review of the National Compact implementation;Respecting and upholding the independence of the VCSE sector to deliver their mission.

Including their right to campaign, regardless of any relationship, financial or otherwise, which may exist.In 2012-13, the Department for Education will also include reporting on the Compact within its business plan to be published in spring 2012.

Department for International Development

Mr Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what contribution his Department is making to implementation of the Compact with the voluntary sector; and if he will make a statement.

Mr O'Brien: DFID is contributing to Compact between UK Government and voluntary organisations. DFID ensures that it consults voluntary organisations on matters that that are likely to impact on the Department's work with civil society.

Examples of this include the 12 week open consultation on the design of UK Aid Match and consultation on the design of the Global Poverty Action Fund. DFID Ministers and officials also meet regularly with a wide range of civil society groups to discuss opportunities for achieving common goals.

Ministry of Defence

Gareth Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what contribution his Department is making to implementation of the Compact with the voluntary sector; and if he will make a statement.

Andrew Robathan (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State): The Ministry of Defence (MOD) fully supports the Compact with the voluntary sector. We have a long history of working closely and successfully with outside organisations to support both local communities and the armed forces community. The MOD continues to engage with local communities in a number of ways, including through initiatives such as the armed forces community covenant, our sponsored cadet forces and schemes such as the Education Outreach programme, where military and civilian staff mentor and support students in developing their career and employability skills. Voluntary sector stakeholders are given the opportunity to have their observations published alongside the annual report on the armed forces covenant.

Ministry of Justice

Gareth Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what contribution his Department is making to implementation of the Compact with the voluntary sector; and if he will make a statement

Kenneth Clarke: The Compact sets out the relationship between the Government and civil society organisations, also known as the voluntary community and social enterprise sector.

This is part of the framework of policies which support the big society. The Ministry of Justice is signed up to the Compact, as are other Government Departments. Policies within the Department seek to be compliant with the principles of the Compact. This includes, for example, the procurement policies used by the Department.

Following the publication of the National Audit Office report on implementation of the Compact in Departments, the Ministry of Justice is considering what more could be done to improve the relationship with civil society organisations, and will reflect this in its updated business plan in the spring.

The Department will also support action taken centrally by the Office for Civil Society to further embed the Compact.

Cabinet Office

Gareth Thomas: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office what contribution his Department is making to implementation of the Compact with the voluntary sector; and if he will make a statement.

Nick Hurd: The Office for Civil Society (OCS) in the Cabinet Office is responsible for the Compact on behalf of Government.

This responsibility includes:

  • Acting as the sponsor department for Compact Voice, (who act as the voice of the voluntary sector on the Compact, with a network of over 2,300 members) including hosting regular governance meetings between me and the Chair of Compact Voice to report on the effectiveness of the Compact.
  • Hosting the Annual Compact Awards, recognising excellence in Compact working and promoting best practice.
  • Liaising with officials across central Government Departments on Compact related business, for example, recently OCS worked with No.10 and departmental business plan leads on the inclusion of the Compact as a cross departmental agenda item in the 2012-13 business plan refresh.

Business plans will be published in the spring.

Department for Communities and Local Government

Gareth Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what contribution his Department is making to implementation of the Compact with the voluntary sector; and if he will make a statement.

Andrew Stunell: The Department for Communities and Local Government signed up to the renewed Compact published in December 2010. Over the last year the Department has taken the following actions to ensure the Compact is being implemented:

  • Nominated Senior Responsible Officer for the Compact and a civil society liaison officer responsible for day to day promotion and management of Compact implementation.
  • Monitors departmental Compact compliance, via the number of complaints received about the implementation of the Compact.
  • Participated in the National Audit Office's review of the National Compact implementation

I am particularly pleased that this Department won the National Compact Award during the 2011 Compact Week for our work, with the sector, in producing the Best Value guidance which gives a new, clear prominence to working with the voluntary sector, helps build the confidence of these organisations in holding public agencies to account, is explicit about the scope for Best Value authorities to consider social value in their functions and specifically mentions local Compacts.

In 2012-13 the Department will also include reporting on the Compact within its business plan to be published in spring 2012.

My officials will also be following up the other recommendations within the National Audit Office report in order to ensure that the Department continues to be a strong model of collaborative working between Government and the voluntary sector.

Department for Health

Gareth Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what contribution his Department is making to implementation of the Compact with the voluntary sector; and if he will make a statement.

Mr Simon Burns:The Department signed up to the renewed Compact published in December 2010.

It is committed to the principles of the Compact and pursues a “compact compliant” way of working in its business with civil society organisations (CSOs).

Over the last year the Department has taken the following actions to ensure the Compact is being implemented. It:

  • Has a nominated Senior Responsible Officer for the Compact, and a civil society liaison officer responsible for day to day promotion and management of Compact implementation; reviewed and monitored consultation lengths, to ensure consultations with the CSO sector are 12 weeks, where possible;
  • Has incorporated the Compact into its own cross departmental guidance on matters like grant funding and procurement;
  • Monitored departmental Compact compliance, via the number of complaints received about the implementation of the Compact;
  • Participated in the National Audit Office (NAO's) review of the National Compact implementation; and made ministerial statements and provided leadership on the Compact signalling its importance to relevant stakeholder groups e.g. by including a statement on the value of the Compact in arm's length bodies business planning guidance

In 2012-13 the Department will also include reporting on the Compact within its business plan to be published in spring 2012.

The Department welcomes the recent NAO inquiry on Government implementation of the Compact and will work with Compact Voice to take forward the report's recommendations to help Departments improve how they embed Compact principles into departmental activities.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)

Gareth Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what contribution the Department is making to implementation of the Compact with the voluntary sector; and if they will make a statement.

Richard Benyon: Civil society organisations make a vital contribution to the delivery of many of DEFRA's objectives and commitments, and our work with the sector is underpinned by the principles set out in the Compact.
 
These principles have been disseminated to all staff in core-DEFRA who are likely to have contact with representatives of civil society. Following the publication of DEFRA's refreshed Business Plan later this year, we will take steps to improve our understanding of how effectively DEFRA is complying with Compact principles, and to ensure that the Compact is systematically embedded in the way DEFRA works with civil society.

Crown Prosecution Service

Gareth Thomas: To ask the Attorney-General what contribution the Law Officers' Departments are making to implementation of the Compact with the voluntary sector; and if he will make a statement.

The Attorney-General: The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is committed to the principles of the compact in its engagement with a range of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).
 
Such engagement takes place on a regular basis both at a national and local level through set structures. At a national level engagement takes place on a quarterly basis through the Community Accountability Forum (CAF), which includes as its membership national CSOs.
 
National engagement also takes place on specific policies to help ensure that these take on board the perspective, views and concerns of communities and are responsive to need. At a local level the CPS has established Local Scrutiny and Involvement Panels (LSIPs), whose membership includes local CSOs, in order to meaningfully and regularly engage on local issues and concerns and to improve transparency.
 
A range of other engagement and partnership working takes place locally on specific local issues and concerns—examples include violence against women and girls and hate crimes.
 
In relation to volunteering, the CPS successfully launched its Pro Bono and Volunteers Network (CPVN) in June 2009 in order to enable staff to take an active role in volunteering in the community. The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) aims to ensure that it works in partnership with Civil Society Organisation (CSO) to achieve common goals and outcomes for the benefit of communities and citizens in England.

The SFO achieves this in a number of ways. The SFO works with the Witness Service, Victim Support and Public Concern at work to support the victims of fraud and whistleblowers. The SFO also supports events to raise public awareness of serious economic crime. These events are often run by CSO's such as Transparency International and Aged Concern.

As part of its commitment to equality and diversity the SFO works with Stonewall to promote a fairer workplace.
 
Finally the SFO sponsors a volunteering scheme to enable members of staff to get involved with local projects to support the Big Society.
 
The Attorney-General's Office, Treasury Solicitor's Department (TSOL) and the HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate do not have direct working relationships with CSO's because of the nature of their work is focused on providing services to other Government Departments.
 
Consequently they are not involved in designing or delivering services, programmes or policies for citizens and communities, or providing funding to any civil society organisations.
 
TSol does however have a number of staff who volunteer on a regular basis for the GLS Pro Bono Network, and provides special leave for those who act as a magistrate, school governor or trustee of a charity.

In addition the Department allows staff one day's paid special leave per year to undertake community or voluntary work which is for the benefit of others outside their immediate friends and family.

Government Equalities Office

Gareth Thomas: To ask the Minister for Women and Equalities what contribution the Government Equalities Office is making to implementation of the Compact with the voluntary sector; and if she will make a statement.

Lynne Featherstone: On 1 April 2011, the Government Equalities Office became part of the Home Office.
 
The information requested will be provided by the Minister for Immigration, my hon. friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green).
Department for Energy and Climate Change

Gareth Thomas:To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what contribution his Department is making to implementation of the Compact with the voluntary sector; and if he will make a statement.

Gregory Barker: The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) signed up to the renewed Compact published in December 2010.

DECC has strong working relationships with many civil society organisations. These relationships respect the Compact principle of a strong, diverse and independent civil society. For example, the Department recently launched a new £10 million Local Energy Assessment Fund launched specifically to help local communities develop energy projects.

DECC has made it mandatory to advertise all procurement requirements above £10,000 on Contracts Finder ensuring that opportunities are available in the public domain for SME's and civil society groups. DECC has a nominated Civil Society champion, and a civil society liaison officer and participated in the NAO's review of the National Compact implementation.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport

Gareth Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport what contribution his Department is making to implementation of the Compact with the voluntary sector; and if he will make a statement.

Mr Vaizey: The Department for Culture, Media and Sport signed up to the renewed Compact, published in December 2010.

To ensure that the Compact is being implemented, we have nominated a senior responsible officer, and a civil society liaison officer responsible for day to day oversight of this area of work.

We also monitor consultation lengths, to ensure they are 12 weeks where possible, and Compact compliance via the number of complaints we have received on this issue.
 
We recently participated in the National Audit Office's review of the National Compact implementation and will ensure that the findings of this review inform our departmental business plan for 2012-13.

Department for Transport 

Norman Baker (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Regional and Local Transport): The Department for Transport signed up to the renewed Compact published in December 2010.

Over the last year, the Department has taken a number of actions to ensure the Compact is being implemented. It has nominated a civil society liaison officer who is responsible for day to day promotion and management of Compact implementation; worked with others across Government to promote the Compact principles and been engaged in working with voluntary, community and social enterprise sector bodies (VCSEs) to help them provide transport services; promoted the Compact to successful bidders for the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, drawing attention to the flexibilities it provides for advance payments to civil society organisations; and participated in the NAO’s review of the National Compact implementation.

Department for Work and Pensions

Mr Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what contribution his Department is making to implementation of the Compact with the voluntary sector; and if he will make a statement.

Chris Grayling: The Department implements the principles of the Compact by following the Government code of practice on consultation and by requiring welfare to work providers to comply with the code of conduct which underpins the DWP commissioning strategy.

The Compact principles are further embedded through the Merlin Standard which all providers are required to achieve as a condition of their contracts. The Department believes that the voluntary sector has a key role to play in supporting DWP's most vulnerable customers to move into or retain employment and as such will endeavour to comply with the principles of the Compact in all its dealings with these organisations.

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