There is more than a threefold variation in the amount clinical commissioning groups intend to spend on support services, an HSJ investigation has found.

The latest HSJ Briefing has found that two CCGs − Sunderland and the Isle of Wight − plan to spend less than £5 per head of population on their commissioning support unit. Meanwhile another two − Corby and Ashford − plan to spend more than £15 per head.

HSJ has analysed information on commissioning support spending intentions from more than half of all CCGs, which responded to requests, although these include 30 who are yet to sign a service level agreement with a CSU.

On average, the CCGs we received responses from are planning to spend just over £9 per head of population on their local CSU − about 30 per cent less than the commissioning board estimated last summer.

Negotiations are still going on in many areas despite the NHS Commissioning Board directing CCGs to have service level agreements signed by the end of November.

The board has emphasised the importance to the human resources transition process of agreeing which functions were to be provided by CCGs and which would be outsourced to CSUs. This is because staffing structures cannot be finalised before those decisions have been agreed locally.

HSJ has also been told that, despite a clear directive from the commissioning board last year that the service level agreements should be for 18 months, some CCGs have entered into deals extending for up to five years.

Meanwhile, the NHS Commissioning Board itself has begun agreeing a set of deals for £9.4m worth of support services for its own responsibilities.

Tenders for this work were broken down into three lots: support around commissioning military health services; procurement advice for direct commissioning; and support for specialised commissioning, secondary dental care and prison health.

The military health services contract has not yet been awarded, although the Central Southern commissioning support unit is understood to be the front runner for the deal.

For procurement advice, the lot was divided into four regional lots. The winners were North of England CSU, Kent and Medway CSU, Greater East Midlands CSU and South London CSU.

Eight CSUs have been named as winners of a set of 10 regional specialised commissioning support contracts, with two yet to be awarded.

A commissioning board spokesman said the remaining contracts would be awarded “very soon”.