Partnerships: the new buzz word for devolved Government responsibility?

Partnerships have been a prominent feature in the news of recent months. Anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of the Olympics will be aware of the important role of sponsorship partners, particularly those who might have wanted to drink a Pepsi while in the Olympic Park or pay for something with their Mastercard! Partnerships are also increasingly important in the third sector. The news that the Big Lottery Fund has recently announced a £100million fund to encourage civil society organisations to collaborate and “fill the gaps” in services for people with multiple support needs demonstrates this clearly. It has also been announced that 25% of charities in London have collaborated with the private sector in the last year in order to meet the needs of their service users, up from just 1% the previous year.

So what should be made of this? In many respects partnerships are great as they relieve the financial burden of providing services from the state and statutory bodies, freeing up their money for a greater number of causes. They also enable charities and other organisations to bring in expertise from a various sources across the private sector which can help to enhance the services that they offer. In times like these when there is less money available then partnerships make a great deal of sense, and Cause4 is all in favour of collaborations which enable the work of charities to continue unimpeded. A good example of this is the recent announcement that Serco, a leading private contractor is in line to win a contract to run the National Citizen Service in conjunction with four charities, keeping together a scheme that had been at risk of ‘fragmentation’ due to a 12% cut in local authority funding.

Serco's handling of border control has not always been entirely well-received

However, it sometimes seems as though these measures are delegating away responsibilities that the Government themselves should really be shouldering, to the detriment of those that they are meant to be helping. The aim of the new Big Lottery Fund is to help deal with a ‘flawed system’, so shouldn’t the Government be working actively to fix that system, rather than throwing money at expensive external solutions? The lack of funding for charities often seems to compel them to enter partnerships with private firms that might be considered to have somewhat questionable credentials. For example, Serco’s professionalism has been called into question in the past in their NHS and border control contracts.

Are we in fact entering a new era in this age of austerity, where  ‘money talks’, forcing organisations to enter partnerships that are not always in the interests either of charities themselves or the people they are trying to assist?

What do you think? Are you happy that partnerships are a positive step or an example of the retreat of the state- for good or ill? We’d love to hear your views?

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