The Commission for the Compact will spearhead a three-month debate on whether the agreement on public and voluntary sector relations should be backed by statutory powers.
Third sector minister Phil Hope has asked Compact commissioner Bert Massie to carry out a review of the legal status of the Compact and of the commission itself.
The Compact was established ten years ago as a non-binding agreement on the relationship between charities and public bodies, including on funding and consultation. The commissioner’s role was set up in 2006 and the commission established in 2007 to promote the implementation of the Compact but without statutory enforcement powers.
Charities have long called for the Compact to be enforceable in particular to punish public bodies for commissioning services from charities on short-term contracts and failing to meet the full costs.
In a speech this week, Massie, who took over as commissioner this year, said charities were “frustrated” with the public sector’s slow progress in implementing the Compact.
He urged the government to make the commission a statutory corporation and give it powers to investigate breaches of the Compact and call for witnesses and evidence.
Massie sceptical about statutory Compact
But he admitted he was sceptical about the more radical step of making the Compact itself statutory, meaning breaches would be punishable, either by the commission or another body or through a judicial process.
He warned that statutory provisions would need to be agreed by every government department, adding each would fight to “remove or weaken the the parts that imposed obligations on them”. This could result in a weaker Compact than the present one, he said.
Massie also questioned whether it would be enforceable on third sector parties, who may end up facing fines they could not afford.
Need for ‘serious rewriting’ of Compact
However, Massie said that the Compact required serious rewriting. He said it was “beginning to show its age” and that its five codes – on volunteering, funding, consultation, community groups and black and minority ethnic organisations – did “not form a coherent and comprehensive set”.