Compact in action: Voluntary Action Sheffield

Having separate Compacts with the PCT and local authority works for charities in Sheffield

Not only does Sheffield have two top professional football teams, but also two Compacts.

Voluntary Action Sheffield signed a Compact with the city council in 2000. Four years later, it signed a separate agreement with its four local primary care trusts, which have since merged into one body - Sheffield PCT.

So why not just have the one? "There was a feeling that the NHS would just be bolted on to the local authority Compact, and it would be more meaningful to engage with them if they had their own," says Nigel West, health, housing and social care manager at Voluntary Action Sheffield.

There are also differences in how the local authority and PCT approach the Compact. "The local authority Compact is better resourced," says West.

"It has an officer responsible for servicing the Compact and a steering group. It also receives funding."

Both Compacts cover similar areas by including codes of practice on consultation, partnership working and funding. The local authority agreement also has a disputes procedure, which is something still being agreed with the health authority.

West admits that it can be frustrating for the voluntary sector to put so much into the Compacts with little apparent reward. But there have been some triumphs.

"Despite its budgetary problems, Sheffield PCT has agreed to a funding code of practice that says it agrees not to make any immediate cuts in funding to voluntary organisations," he says. "It has to give at least six months notice.

"I don't think it would have made that commitment if the Compact wasn't in place, because it is under huge financial pressure."

In the long term, the two Compacts may become one. "Our ultimate wish is that they converge into one, but at the moment they contain differences in emphasis and the sense of ownership is important," explains West.

"Having worked towards establishing shared agreements, it doesn't make sense right now to say 'we're all going into the same one' when things seem to be working well."

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