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Collaborative models for the public sector

Source: Public Sector Executive July/Aug 2013

Matt Humphrey, national lead for local government and emergency services and a partner at RSM Tenon, who has worked in or with local government for over 20 years, makes the case for collaboration. 

The recent spending review indicates that austerity measures within the public sector are now predicted to 2020 and beyond – and this is all against the backdrop of sector-led reform within local government being demanded by the Government. 

This, however, does not mean that the role of councils is defunct, nor that the demand for council services and support will diminish: given the economic climate the need may be greater! But what this does mean is that councils will need to behave and operate very differently in the future.

Cost reduction will still play a key part in future decision making but it cannot remain the driver for actions into the future. 

That said, for some in local government nothing has really changed. They have always been advocates of exploring alternative ways of providing services that were not just about cost savings but most importantly service improvements to their customers, added social value, and addressing some of the wider outcomes that authorities were seeking to achieve such as regeneration, health, employment etc. 

In many cases this has involved thinking and working in collaboration with other councils, the wider public sector, voluntary organisations and the private sector. 

Put simply, collaboration is where two or more people or organisations work together in a collective and determined manner to achieve shared objectives and outcomes.

Collaboration, now, is being seen as a key way in which the public sector can create and make further savings as well as enhance the quality of services and customer experience through joint commissioning and, where appropriate, service delivery. 

No one size fits all 

Collaboration can take many forms. Softer approaches may be time limited and involve organisations working together to achieve common objectives and outcomes. Such arrangements will be governed by agreed terms of reference, but there may be no further formal integration.

Whereas what might be termed ‘hard’ collaboration could involve the physical merger of organisations or parts, creating a new organisation for the purpose of achieving longer term objectives and outcomes. 

There are also varying degrees of collaboration in between either end of the soft-hard collaboration spectrum. 

Collaboration benefits and barriers 

Below is an extract from a collaboration concept report prepared by RSM Tenon on behalf of a number of councils that were investigating a collaborative approach to regulatory services that would fall under the heading of public protection. 

This shows how diverse collaborative arrangements and structures can be, and also highlights the likely benefits and barriers that might be either realised or encountered.

Create a county-wide approach managed by a host organisation

This model would necessitate the centralisation of services under the auspices of an existing organisation, incorporating: 

• Creation of a single, integrated regulatory body;

• Transfer of relevant services into the existing organisation service portfolio;

• Transfer of staff, budgets, responsibilities accordingly. 


Deliver citizen / local business benefits          

Deliver organisational benefits

Potentially the most cost-effective option

Strengthen the role of the county council or other organisation

Greater consistency of approach

Greater concentration of expertise 


Represents a major threat to existing councils

Fear of creation of unitary authority (take over)

Potential impact or viability of existing boroughs / districts

Loss of local autonomy / control

Increased levels of mistrust and misunderstanding

Decision-making determined by the county council’s or other organisation’s governance processes

Potential impact on local political accountability and discharge of statutory functions

Political incompatibility 

Shared services model involving creation of separate entity (or other delivery organisation) 

Such a model could only be contemplated if there were sufficient critical mass including services, staff, budgets and so on to create a separate, ‘stand alone’ entity / regulatory body funded by the respective organisations in the county. This body would deliver services to all organisations in the county via Service Level Agreements (or contracts), identifying the level, scope, quality and cost of services to be provided. The SLAs might vary in different parts of the county dependent on local needs. 


Deliver citizen / local business benefits

Deliver organisational benefits

Shared responsibility and shared role across county

No single body is in control – freedom to make decisions and act more commercially (innovation, efficiency and effectiveness).

Better use of existing resources and potential for efficiencies through stream-lining management and administration costs

Potential freedom to raise funds and tap into new sources of income

Greater consistency of approach

Greater concentration of expertise 


Concerns over the viability of the shared services model

Concerns over service quality deterioration if provided by a now arms-length body.

Perceived lack of local autonomy / control

Impact on viability of existing organisations in the county

Potential impact on local political accountability and discharge of statutory functions

Political incompatibility

Difficulties in agreeing the relative power and influence of the various stakeholder bodies

Difficulties in agreeing cost sharing arrangements

Joint services model 

This model might involve the creation of a Joint Services Board (or equivalent mechanism) across the county, with existing services, staff and budgets remaining the responsibility of the respective organisations but being governed by the Joint Services Board. 

This model potentially represents the ‘least change’ option, but would still require the benefits for the local community (including the business community) and the respective organisational benefits to be achieved via consultation, negotiation and possibly piloting different options. 


Deliver citizen / local business benefits

Deliver organisational benefits

No single body is in control

Least threatening option

Retains viability of existing organisations      

Retains local autonomy and control 


Most difficult option to implement

Subject to vagaries of individual organisations

Greater risk of local politics impacting on sustainability

Might not deliver optimum level of service improvement / efficiency

Key elements to successful collaboration 

There are several key elements to make collaboration between public sector bodies (or between public and private sector organisations) a success. Experience says it isn’t easy but if you consider and think hard about what works (and what doesn’t) as per the list below, you can make life that little bit easier. 


• Do your homework and really understand your partners (don’t rely on perceptions)

• Their drivers

• Their wants and goals

• Their culture

• Work to an agreed, shared vision 


• Determine the cost and profit elements at the outset, as well as risk and reward

• Establish ownership and define roles and responsibilities – clarity and equity 


• Establish member support

• Garner support from other stakeholders

• Using a robust governance framework


• Regular reporting and communication at all levels

• Keep key players in constant communication (formal and informal)

• Regular communication framework 


• In-depth knowledge of your own organisation (sounds obvious, but you’ll be surprised what you don’t know…)

• Defined inputs (with reliable information) that you all agree on

• Defined outputs (with meaningful reporting) that you all agree on 


• Cutting unnecessary local bureaucracy (such as staff terms & conditions, policies) between partners

• Establishing and monitoring cultural differences

• Develop a new culture (but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater) – even if it’s a Host Authority model 


• Build and maintain trust between partners


• Flexibility (be prepared for some give and take)

• Be prepared to take risks, because things WILL change…

• Be prepared to be sympathetic with staff adjusting to change 


Savings will, of course, be an important issue and a key driver of collaboration but it is important to remember that true collaboration can potentially offer so much more in areas such as investment, innovation, transformation and resilience around service delivery and quality, in addition to genuine social value and better outcomes within local communities. 

About the author

Matt Humphrey’s experience lies in the field of appraisal, design and establishment of alternative service delivery models. 

His particular focus is on ensuring that sound governance and risk management prevails during the periods of development, operation and growth to ensure that these entities become commercially sustainable, represent value for money and are able to provide quality services to customers, both now and in the future. 

He believes that local government has a key role to play in the future economic and social prosperity of communities across the country if it is prepared to go through a significant metamorphosis to make itself ready.

Case study: Greenwich Primary Care Collaborative (GPCC)  

Vijay Bajpai, GP and chairman of the Greenwich Primary Care Collaborative, said: “As a group of doctors working together in South London, we wanted to create a new social enterprise as a vehicle for collaboration, to enable us all to work together to improve the health services provided to our patients. 

“Creating our own social enterprise has given us that chance. Greenwich Primary Care Collaborative CIC is now up and running and providing high quality services which generate revenues. From those revenues we are investing in local services, for example, an education programme for clinicians across primary and secondary care. Working collaboratively through the social enterprise has been an opportunity for us all to put something back into the local community. I see it as a big opportunity for groups of clinicians and other people to make a difference to services delivered within their locality.”

Northamptonshire Licensing Consortium 

Five councils within Northamptonshire have combined resources and set up a centralised unit to administer the processing of all licences. The intention was through a collaborative approach to alleviate service pressures on individual councils which would have been created when new licensing legislation was introduced as well as realising economies of sharing one service. The introduction of a central administration unit also ensured that advice provided to customers was consistent.

Mike Deacon, head of environmental services at East Northamptonshire Council (the host council for the consortium) said: “Through the Northamptonshire Licensing Partnership we are now able to build on a firm platform where resilience, capacity, consistency and customer satisfaction remain the key drivers, whilst continuing to realise the financial benefit of working collaboratively and realising economies of scale.  [It is] a model that is transferable and has the protection of ‘sovereignty’ at its core.”


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