The Power in Partnerships
In an age of shrinking public budgets, tighter demand targeting and increased outsourcing of risk, providers of employment support services have a choice: either they sharpen their elbows to edge out (or swallow up) the competition; or they link arms to benefit from collective strength and intelligence. If the service in question is focused on addressing the complex needs of individuals who are likely to be supported by a range of agencies already, partnership is the obvious answer. Indeed, not to work in partnership is likely to be detrimental to meeting the needs of those who need support. Repeated assessments through lack of data sharing, poor handovers through lack of coordination and limited support through lack of resources can move people further away from the labour market and, in more serious cases, lead to a worsening of health conditions.
But partnership isn’t easy, particularly in a world where the boundaries between organisations and sectors have become more blurred – where private companies compete to deliver social work, where local authorities have to trade to maintain services and where charities have to commercialise the benefit they provide.
Roots to Wellbeing is a programme delivered by Groundwork in Warrington with the support of 14 partner organisations ranging from Golden Gates Housing Trust to the Warrington Wolves Charitable Foundation. A team-based personal development programme, it has given more than 80 people the chance to enjoy completing practical projects together while learning skills and overcoming some complex and challenging personal issues. 77% of participants reported improved wellbeing with 55% moving into education, training or work. According to one participant “It was like being in a dark room and someone turned on the lights.”
This is the kind of locally integrated partnership provision that fits well with the Government’s aspirations around Work and Health. But there are tensions in the system. Commercial considerations are pushing commissioners to consider super CPAs managed by a consolidating marketplace of providers. How does this system accommodate the complex local relationship-building and the flexible tailoring required by those in need of support? How do we shift from deploying the combine harvester in the wheatfield to using hand tools in the allotment?
The answer is to turn the existing dynamic on its head and to build from the bottom-up. In the case of Work and Health this means identifying those local programmes and partnerships already providing services and support successfully to people with health conditions and disabilities – or simply those who have been repeatedly parked – and then working with them to understand how a contract manager can add value by promoting innovation, enhancing employer engagement and supporting working capital needs.
It also means sticking to the golden rules of good multi-sector partnership. Of course there is no such thing, but as a starter for ten…
Effective partnership-building can be slow and complex but when it works it can be exhilarating as collective energy and complementary skills are focused on changing lives. What’s important now is that we have a commissioning framework and procurement process that recognise and value this, allowing the time and providing the resources to foster collaboration and judging bidders on the strength of their relationships and their commitment to working with others.
Chief Executive, Groundwork