In Defence of the North East

Our recent 2012 survey results highlighted a significant regional difference in both the level of implementation and the perceived effectiveness of the Compact. The North East was one of two regions to have the most negative indicators - according to the figures, respondents felt that both the voluntary and public sectors weren’t engaged with their local Compact.

However, when studying the results only 5 of the 12 local Compact partnerships in the North East were represented in the responses. That’s 42% compared to the West Midlands where perceptions were positive and they had a 93% response rate, with 13 out of 14 Compacts were represented.

Having worked across the North East now for the last 15 months, my own experiences challenge some of the findings in the survey report, and highlight what a difference can be made when all the information isn’t available.

That’s not to say that the results from our survey aren’t valid. Those areas in the North East who did respond provided a useful overview of how their local Compacts are working. It’s just that without knowing about those areas who didn’t respond, the survey might not paint the whole picture.

Part of the reason for the low response rate in the North East may be to do with changes within staff structures, or that those who did receive the survey may not have been able to provide the information needed due to being new in post or new to leading on the Compact. Similarly, some key contacts had left their posts, which made it difficult for us to chase responses.

I’ve been aware that there have been some problems with engaging on the Compact in the North East. To address this, over the last 3 months I have been setting up a North East Network. The first meeting took place in May and since then, a virtual network has been set up to work alongside the face to face meetings. The network currently has 27 members covering all 12 local areas plus representatives from the regional Council for Voluntary Service and the Office for Civil Society.

The purpose of the network is to share good practice, ideas, experiences and knowledge as well as being a forum to gather evidence of Compact related issues across the North East. Participation in the network is very good and enthusiasm for the Compact has in my mind increased recently as a result.

We have also championed examples of good practice in the North East, such as in Gateshead which won the Local Compact award in 2011 - judges found the commissioning and improvement programme to be particularly impressive. We recently published a case study about empowering the voluntary sector in Stockton-on-Tees. Sunderland has an e-learning package which has a specific module around the Compact which helps explain to council officers, staff and councillors what it is and why it is important.

I could go on with other examples, such as Redcar & Cleveland’s impressive list of Compact Champions who attend the steering group and work well in partnership. There are more than 116 organisations signed up to the Compact in Sunderland. Space limits how much we can refer to, and I must apologise to my colleagues in the North East who have not been included here.

What becomes clear then, is that the level of engagement with a local Compact is not clear cut, and that it is impossible for the results of the survey to reflect what is really happening on the ground in every area, particularly in those areas that did not have a high response rate.

That said, there is a need for more publicity and awareness-raising in the North East so that both sectors know about the Compact and use it daily. Hopefully this would enable us to gather more responses and provide a more comprehensive overview for next year’s survey. It would also help identify those areas that need more in-depth support (which Compact Voice is providing) to ensure that the barriers to implementation are resolved - but this all takes time.

I am confident that with the people we have on board now in the North East and their willingness to succeed, perceptions and responses to next year’s survey will be very different.

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