Angela Smith’s breach could kill the Compact

Sir Bert Massie, Commissioner for the Compact, described it as challenging; others might prefer the word tortuous. But the Compact on relations between Government and the Third Sector in England finally completed its slow metamorphosis from a 160-page document to a 22-page one this week.

It was a low-key affair, predictably ignored by the national media and without an event to mark the occasion. This probably came as a relief to third sector minister Angela Smith, whose recent Compact breach might have led to some ticklish questions about the apparent contradiction between her words and deeds.

Smith’s breach has taken the wind out of the Compact, at just the worst time. It may even prove fatal. After all, why should anyone now obey the agreement if the Government department responsible for championing it comes up with the classic excuse for breaking it by saying other things were more important?

The Compact has achieved some spectacular, but very isolated, successes in its 11-year history. But the fact remains it isn’t working.

Richard Corden, chief executive at the Commission for the Compact, says 2010 will be about promoting the Compact in central government and its quangos. He is certainly the man for that job – few people in the voluntary sector understand how Whitehall works better than him.

But if little progress is made over the next six months, will whichever government is in power consider it good value to give the commission another £6m to champion the Compact in its next three-year funding settlement for 2011 to 2014?

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