The Compact: Power and the embedding of the voluntary sector in changing concepts of public governance
Hemmings, Mike; Casiday, Rachel (2010)

by Mike Hemmings and Rachel Casiday, University of Wales Lampeter

This paper discusses the Compact in relation to theories of power, governance and regulation and the embedding of the Voluntary Sector in changing concepts of public governance. Based on a wide range of documentary sources, an extensive literature review, and material drawn from the diverse experience of students in Voluntary Sector Studies and our voluntary sector engagements, we critically explore the Compact, the experience of manipulation and power and the closing of genuine and participative avenues for community control.

While the Compact has been praised for clarifying the responsibilities of government and the third sector, it can also be read as reinforcing government power by shaping voluntary organisations’ expectations and monitoring practices, thus exemplifying Lukes’s ideological power and Foucault’s subjectification. This may be, in part, a response to the fragmentation of public service, reduced state control over policy implementation, and reduced leverage over agencies to implement state policy.

In contrast to the stated aims of the Compact, New Public Management has focused on intra- rather than inter-organisational relationships, and emphasised management by target setting and results measurement which acts against relationships based on trust. This has resulted in the embedding of the voluntary sector in restrictive concepts of public governance and the expansion of regulatory and managerial control. Governance and regulation provide a double edged sword, offering opportunities and risks for the voluntary sector. We conclude by considering the ways that increasing regulatory pressures resulting from global economic crises, will erode the prospects for voluntary organisations’ autonomy and community power.

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