When the Local Government Association published a selection of case studies this year showing examples of good working practice between local authorities and the third sector, Hampshire was singled out for its Compact. The county developed a Compact at the turn of the century. But because it has so many public sector bodies, including 11 district and borough councils, three unitary authorities and seven primary care trusts, a single, county-wide Compact was devised in 2004.
"We thought there was a danger we could end up with about 25 Compacts," says Paddy Hillary, acting head of Hampshire County Council's policy unit, who leads on Compact matters for the council.
The association praised the council for "working hard with the third sector to make sure they felt they had their voices heard" during the recent transition from grants to commissioning.
The association held up Hampshire, which spends an estimated £40m on the voluntary sector, as an example of good practice, but the Audit Commission had less praise in its most recent corporate assessment. It urged the council to "review and update its relationship with the voluntary sector across its services, including the operation of the Compact. In particular, it should help to develop the capacity and capability of the sector."
What is the true picture? The Compact is managed by the One Compact group, which includes representatives from both sectors. The council also has its own Compact group, chaired by an executive member, which looks at council issues relating to the Compact.
"We worked closely with the One Compact group to work out what the Compact is and how we can make more people understand it and use it better," says Hillary, but adds: "The Compact operates at a fairly low level."
The council recently produced a DVD, Volunteer Vera, as part of an attempt to improve its relationship with the voluntary sector. The DVD tells the story of youth group organiser Vera and how she uses the Compact to her advantage.
Christine Pattison, policy and information officer at Community Action Hampshire, praises the council for involving the voluntary sector in stakeholder panels, which have a say on council recruitment.