Refreshing our local Compact to reflect the new commissioning landscape

In this guest blog, Leonie McCarthy, Chief Executive Officer of Peterborough Council for Voluntary Service (CVS), talks about some of the issues considered when refreshing the Peterborough Compact, and how it is intended that the new agreement will help voluntary organisations and commissioners to work together.

I used to work for a local authority, leading on voluntary sector engagement. Prior to that, I started out as a front line worker providing support to refugees and asylum seekers on behalf of the Red Cross in Peterborough.
Some people might say I was gamekeeper turned poacher, but I like to think my experience in the public sector gives me an eye for their needs and challenges.
The new commissioning landscape is presenting a range of challenges for both sectors.
In Peterborough, we are responding to these challenges by refreshing our local Compact - an agreement between Peterborough City Council and the Peterborough Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise sector on working together. It provides a framework within which the sectors can understand what to expect from each other.
Among other things, the Peterborough Compact specifically contains commitments to ensure participation in the process of commissioning services. I hope that this will encourage commissioners to talk to local voluntary groups more, and assess where improvements can be made and which partners need to be brought in to assist in development.
We hear a lot of talk about the importance and effectiveness of local people finding local solutions. However, in my experience it is often smaller, more local community groups who are the least engaged with local authorities, least heard by them, and least able to influence - but these same small groups are often the key to understanding what's required to make a difference to communities.
A lot of voluntary organisations in Peterborough have been running successfully for decades, working with current families, as well as their parents, grandparents and great grandparents. These organisations have changed and moulded and stretched to ensure they meet the needs of these families and their communities. And the sector has understood what the issues are and where the solutions can be found.
It is my experience that the new competitive commissioning environment can make this task all the more challenging – some commissioners are moving from grant-based funding to tenders. Sometimes these tenders require £1m in turnover, or extra points for single organisations delivering all aspects of a service. These contracts that join services together aim to reduce costs but risk losing knowledge and expertise developed at a local level by some of the most excluded communities.
I would like to see more partnership working with the many local groups that have delivered services for years, have the support of hundreds of volunteers who have worked with those organisations and who, by their nature, often deliver a whole lot more than one particular service.
These local groups and the existing local networks and organisations are valuable sources of information and contacts – which can form the foundation of good partnership working.
We have to work smarter and better locally. I believe we have to engage with Commissioners to agree priorities for service provision (voluntary and community organisations often have the best insights into where the problems are).
We need to come up with local models of delivery that will meet agreed priorities and develop partnerships. These must be true partnerships focussing on resources and funding opportunities for a wide range of stakeholders - including the smaller, local, most effective support groups, to ensure economies of scale and outstanding service delivery.
We need to work with commissioners to bring this new way of working about. We hope that the new Peterborough Compact will make this happen, helping both sectors to work together effectively for the benefit of our local community.

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