An attempt by the government to revise the compact between voluntary and statutory sectors ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) has sparked concern changes are being rushed through.
Fears have also been raised that the new draft of the national compact, which was launched in 1998 to improve working arrangements between government and the third sector, has weakened commitments on supporting infrastructure and equality issues.
Compact Voice, a charity set up to liaise with the voluntary sector, announced in September the government wanted to update the compact to reflect the Big Society agenda.
A formal 12-week consultation was abandoned in an attempt to feed the new revision into the CSR and, initially, local government was not invited to take part.
But following pressure from local authority officers and voluntary organisations the government’s Office for Civil Society said the statutory sector was also able to respond.
Simon Banks, officer lead for the Essex Compact Steering Group, said: “The difficulty that I and others had was that the initial publicity was through Compact Voice. At that stage they clearly stated they were seeking views from the voluntary sector. Immediately the question arises, what about others?
“With a six-week consultation and confusion in the opening stages about how statutory organisations should respond, there may not be as many responses as you would hope.”
The proposed draft has dropped specific commitments from government bodies to reallocate strategic grants for services people with a “protected characteristic” to organisations serving the same group.
Mr Banks said: “There are several commitments under equality which have been lost from the latest draft. It is one of the more noticeable changes.
“That appears to me to be a fairly large-scale cull compared to some of the other sections.”
A spokesperson for Compact Voice denied public bodies had been excluded from the consultation.
He said: “While this shorter timeframe is not ideal, the current Compact states that if a formal 12-week written consultation is not possible then an explanation should be given.
“We believe that getting the Compact widely used at such a crucial time as the difficult weeks which are sure to follow this spending review, wholly justifies the reduced period.
“Equalities legislation has progressed with the recent Equalities Act and the renewed Compact has to reflect these changes.
“We believe the commitment on equality in the Renewed Compact has not been weakened, for example it remains one of the five Outcomes for Government and Civil Society Organisations, and the first section of the text is assigned to this area.”
Councils for Voluntary Service across the country and the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action have also raised concerns that commitments to support infrastructure development and capacity building have been dropped.
The OCS recently cut key £11m from key voluntary sector infrastructure initiatives and the Commission for the Compact appeared on a leaked list of quangos the government is considering scrapping.