#otscampaign to you

So what gives on the so-called OTS campaign? Firstly, I read a hard-hitting piece in the Charity Times from the National Coalition for Independent Action which quoted an open letter to the chief executives of the five national bodies, which have endorsed the revised National Compact, launched on December 16:

Dear Stephen, Debra, Stuart, Kevin and Justin,

We write this open letter to you, having been confronted by your ringing endorsement of the ‘Refreshed Compact’.

Over here at the NCIA we have long taken a critical view, both of the Compact and the industry that has been created to promote its goodness and effectiveness. Nothing has changed in that department.

The Compact is still a fig leaf for unequal power relationships.

But the reason why we are now spending time on it is because the whole ‘refresh’ process, culminating in the December 16th launch and your own contribution to this, so vividly illustrates what we have been complaining about in the sector for the last three years.

The relentless orthodoxy that there is only good news out there; that the sector is thriving and partnerships with government and their agents at local level are harmonious, successful and effective; and, that any disagreement with this version of events is seen off as misinformed, mischief-making or ignorant.

What we see is a rather different picture, in which a large amount of public money has now been spent on the Compact good news industry, and where the new version of the document:

pretty faithfully reflects what the government wants it to say;
was built on a grossly inadequate consultation exercise (79 responses from 179,000 charities – never mind the hundreds of thousands of non-charitable community groups) and involved ignoring the views and recommendations of some of those most closely involved in the process (via the Compact Refresh Panel);
has ended up with a worse document to the one that preceded it, which focuses on the procurement/contract/privatisation agenda, marginalises (again) the community sector, and totally dumps equalities issues;
retains the voluntary code idea that all good people will, of course, take their Compact obligations seriously, so obviously flying in the face of the evidence;
and, to add a chilling Orwellian echo, promotes the reclassification from the Single Equalities Bill of ‘people with protected characteristics’.

Meanwhile state agencies (right up to the OTS Minister herself) continue to ignore or flout Compact compliance and the bulk of the sector remains quite unsurprised by all this, having long since realised that the Compact, despite its tactical use by a few plucky local activists, is hardly at the cutting edge of helpfulness in their relationship with statutory agencies.

Even the evident focus on public service privatisation and the sector’s assumed role in this, is naïve and will be seen to be ironic, for 2010 will see the beginning of savage public expenditure cuts.

Meanwhile I read in Third Sector NCVO chief exec Stuart Etherington claims charities which lost money after pitching for funding, later withdrawn by the Office of the Third Sector (hence the ‘OTS campaign’ or ‘#otscampaign’ on Twitter) was ridiculed by the same department. Like I said, what gives?

The Office of the Third Sector has denied claims by umbrella body the NCVO that it has rejected compensation applications from charities that should have received grants under the abandoned Campaigning Research Programme.

The £750,000 fund, which aimed to help small charities campaign, was cancelled at short notice last November by third sector minister Angela Smith after 32 successful applicants had already been promised funds. The money was redirected to the Hardship Fund.

The charities were told at the time that they would be compensated for expenses of up to £1,000 they had incurred in applying to the fund. The NCVO said it understood that most of the compensation applications had been rejected because the applications did not fulfil the OTS’s guidelines. It said one charity, the Manchester Disabled People’s Access Group, had submitted a claim for just over £1,000 but had only £3.96 approved.

Ruth Malkin, the general manager of MDPAG, said she had already submitted her expenses twice because she had been told by the OTS that she had done it incorrectly the first time. “I sent them what I thought they had asked for, but a lot of the work is quite intangible,” she said. “I sent them the minutes of our planning meetings, but I was a bit naïve: I thought they would be falling over backwards to get us this money.

“Who knows what we are going to get and when?” she said. “I have never been treated this badly before. It was irresponsible of the OTS to set up a project that they didn’t have proper permission for and had to be cancelled.”

Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the NCVO, said the Government was continuing “to make an embarrassing botched job” of ending the project. “We understood that the Government would be flexible in covering expenses for these grassroots organisations and appreciate that it would not always be possible to document legitimate time spent on this through official receipts or papers,” he said.

“We are extremely concerned that many of these small charities will be left out of pocket because they simply do not have the resources to pursue this through an ever-increasing number of Government hoops.”

A spokesman for the Office of the Third Sector said: “This is completely ridiculous. We have not rejected any claims. Where organisations have provided no evidence, we have asked them to do so. It would be wrong to spend public money without properly accounting for the expenditure.”