Engineering better value through partnership working

  • Local government faces a growing resources gap and political pressures to increase community involvement
  • Partnership working can engineer greater value for councils, and generate better outcomes for communities
  • Innovative solutions can help overcome the perceived barriers to working with other groups and organisations

The public sector is in flux, and partnerships have never been more important. Nearly 80% of councils now see forming partnerships for the delivery of public services as a priority for their organisation. Collaborating with others can help local authorities generate better value for themselves and their communities, as well as creating new opportunities for potential partners.

A complex mix of environmental, political and socio-economic pressures present a challenging landscape for today’s local authorities.

Long-term trends, such as climate change and an ageing population, are increasing demand for public services. At the same time, the public sector continues to see reductions in government funding, with councils shouldering the biggest cuts.

The combined effect is a resources gap that is growing by £2.1billion each year, adding up to more than £12.4billion by the end of the decade. This is putting huge pressures on local government to do more with less.

The coalition’s localism agenda is also driving a major restructuring of the public sector. The concept of a ‘Big Society’ envisions communities coming together to solve problems without direct state involvement, compelling councils to completely rethink their role and methods of service delivery in new and more innovative ways.

Benefiting through partnerships

Collaboration can create a wider social value for all: savings for public sector organisations; more effective service delivery for communities; and more business opportunities for the private and voluntary sectors.

Recent reforms, particularly those enshrined in the Localism Act, give local government greater flexibility in deciding how, and with whom, it works. This presents a huge opportunity for councils to engineer better value in their service delivery.

What constitutes a ‘partnership’ is open to interpretation, and local authorities are continuing to find new and innovative ways of collaborating.

Partnership models can include:

  • A community organisation taking over the running of former public services
  • Contracting out services to a third-party provider (such as a private or voluntary sector organisation)
  • Shared service delivery with another council to achieve efficiencies of scale
  • Large-scale consolidation of management functions with another public sector organisation

Nurturing community capacity

While nearly 80% of councils see partnership as a top priority, 83% perceive ‘lack of capacity in the community and voluntary sector’ to be a barrier, according to a LGiU report. However, the report also reveals that ‘community engagement potential of the bid’ ranked lowest on councils’ agendas when making procurement decisions.

This risks crowding out community involvement, making contracts only viable for larger, more established entities (especially those within the private sector). By not prioritising such considerations in the procurement process, councils may fail to realise the wider benefits that partnership working can bring.

If councils are to embrace the concept of community involvement in the design and delivery of services, then they need to address issues of capacity. Without mechanisms in place to encourage community investment, partnership opportunities will remain limited.

Many local authorities are successfully addressing this through the use of Community Benefit Clauses (CBCs). CBCs are contractual obligations that can incorporate a range of social, environmental and economic conditions into service delivery contracts. They can include conditions that facilitate the creation of opportunities for community and voluntary sector organisations, boosting capacity for future partnership arrangements.

While the concept of partnerships – beyond the traditional commissioning of services – may be new territory for many local authorities, there is much to be gained through such collaborations. The private and voluntary sectors are fertile ground for new ideas and innovation, and provide councils with the chance to engineer greater value for their communities. The most successful organisations will be those that can look beyond traditional models, embrace their new-found freedom, and establish reciprocal relationships with communities and other organisations.