Compact in action: Sheffield

A merger is being considered between the local authority and health service Compacts.

The voluntary sector in Sheffield is considering whether to cut the number of local Compacts from two to one. Charities currently have separate agreements with the city council and the health service, mainly for historical reasons.

In 2000, Sheffield was one of the first places to develop a local Compact. "We thought it would be hard enough to get something meaningful with the city council without trying to cut across the whole public sector," explains Nick Warren, chief executive of Voluntary Action Sheffield. A second Compact followed three years later when the Department of Health told primary care trusts to sign up to such agreements.

Having separate Compacts has some advantages, such as being able to tailor them to meet the sector's specific needs with each partner. However, over the past year the Compact in Sheffield has been under review and the idea of a single document has gathered support. "The review was done largely to reflect the shift of emphasis away from grant aid," says Warren. "We expect there to be more procurement and commissioning, and the Compact needs to reflect that."

The merger of four primary care trusts to form Sheffield PCT in October 2006 has increased demand for a more streamlined approach to cross-sector relations. The PCT, which spends £4m on 34 voluntary organisations, is currently reviewing its contracts with the not-for-profit sector, and Warren says the Compact has provided a useful restraining mechanism. "They initially went about it like a bull in a china shop, not giving proper notice of proposed cuts," he says. "The process is still far from perfect, but I'm sure it would have been worse if we didn't have a recognised process of negotiation with them."

The future of the Compact may be resolved at a cross-sector conference to discuss the issue in March. "Some people are sceptical about having one Compact because they think it will be more difficult to get people to take responsibility," says Warren. But he adds: "One agreement would be less confusing."

Difficult issues still have to be to resolved, not least funding: the city council puts money into resourcing its Compact; the PCT doesn't. And both Compacts currently have co-chairs representing each sector, including Warren, who co-chairs the local authority Compact.

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