The strategic partnering task force

Work Study

ISSN: 0043-8022

Article publication date: 1 June 2003



(2003), "The strategic partnering task force", Work Study, Vol. 52 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2003, MCB UP Limited

The strategic partnering task force

In the UK, service improvement is central to the government's drive to modernise local government and strategic partnering is a key option available to local authorities in achieving higher levels of performance in service delivery. A mix of service delivery methods is more likely to achieve the real improvements in efficiency, effectiveness and responsiveness that we all want to see.

Strategic partnerships can bring about radical change in public sector services by combining the skills and expertise of diverse organisations, providing the means for new and innovative approaches. Partnerships can also achieve economies of scale, access scarce specialist skills and secure a more effective use of them, and lever in new capital resources. They are important too in helping to reverse the under utilisation of new information technology.

Partnerships do not have to be large to be strategic. They are also strategic if they deliver services critical to the success of the authority's community aims.

There are many different kinds of partnership and joint-working arrangements and the approach can be appropriate to all service areas. Small authorities can benefit from this way of working, as well as larger ones.

Many authorities are already moving away from conventional service delivery methods, towards strategic partnerships with private sector companies, other authorities and public sector bodies, and voluntary organisations. Some authorities find that certain services can be delivered more effectively by formal joint working with neighbouring authorities. Authorities often share similar problems and partnering arrangements can often minimise costs and maximise benefits. Others discover that successful outcomes require specific skills and experience that they do not possess but which have been developed in the private and voluntary sectors.

However, strategic partnership is not easy, particularly for smaller councils that often have real problems of capacity. Partnerships take time, effort and expertise and authorities want more than just written guidance to help them. They also want practical help and support and that is why the government has set up a Strategic Partnering Taskforce. The taskforce is a team of expert advisers with a wide knowledge of public and private sector procurement, project management and relevant financial and legal expertise. A total of 24 pathfinder projects were selected to receive direct assistance from the taskforce. They include public-public, public-private and public-voluntary partnerships and involve all types and sizes of authorities and service areas.

Of the pathfinder projects eight focus on e-government and corporate support services. One of the common threads here is that in areas where the two tiers of local government wish to provide electronic service delivery this requires a joined-up service from district and county councils to offer the public simpler access to services. At least five of the pathfinders are attempting to join up in this way. The taskforce has worked with each of these projects to establish how the authorities can form a partnership that is equitable and pragmatic, that share risks and rewards and yet fit in with the individual priorities of each authority. These multi-authority partnerships will often also wish to involve a private sector partner at some stage. Complex arrangements of this sort are difficult and uncharted territory, but the potential benefits mean that many more authorities may wish to follow this route.

There are projects like the Worcestershire Partnership, a collaboration of the county council, six district councils and nine other local public bodies whose aim is to establish simplified and unified access to all their services. Another is the North Yorkshire ICT Partnership in which seven districts, one unitary and the county council all wish to deliver a joint e-government strategy.

Taskforce help is provided through one-to-one mentoring, networking and peer support, training and development modules and a project getaway process. It is helping to identify and resolve potential risk factors and assist in scoping, procurement and management arrangements. It also provided advice on financial and legal support for these projects. Support will also be provided to authorities outside the pathfinder programme through a diverse range of published material, including toolkits, models, best practice guidance and training and development programmes.

A total of £50 million has been provided for 64 partnership projects aimed at helping authorities deliver better services on line as part of the Local Government On-Line Programme aimed at e-enabling authorities' services by 2005. These partnerships will build on the work that authorities are already doing to make the most of new technology in providing better quality and more accessible public services.

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