Partnership working and governance

Local democracy is becoming increasingly complex.  A network democracy has evolved whereby decisions for the local community are increasingly debated by a range of different bodies from the community or experts, rather than elected representatives.  The large number of structures and partnerships make it more and more difficult to navigate local government and to know where decisions are made. 

What are the implications?

  • Opportunities for VCOs to influence and help set priorities within their local area.
  • The number of different partnerships can provide a variety of routes for VCOs to engage with decision making structures.
  • The variation in structure and legal status of different partnerships can make it difficult for VCOs to understand the level of power each partnership has, how they link to one another, and where decisions are actually being made.
  • Lack of ‘joined-up’ local strategies.
  • The number of bodies on each partnership from a variety of sectors may result in competing interests and tensions around the accountability and legitimacy of different groups to represent different interests.
  • VCOs will need to be clear about the extent to which they have involved their users and members in shaping their views.
  • An increased need for community leaders who can reconcile the diversity of individual and group expectations and needs across the partnerships and control and manage the direction.
  • Involvement on partnerships can be time consuming and a drain on resources.
  • The numerous opportunities for VCOs to be involved in different partnerships means that there is a risk that the same VCOs end up on each partnership (maybe those with more time or resources) and as a result people trying to wear ‘too many hats.’

Moving forward

  • Do you know what power different partnerships hold in your local area?
  • Are you thinking strategically about which partnerships to engage with and why (and which not to)?
  • Can you define your strategic priorities in terms of who you need to influence?
  • Can you share information on local governance structures and workload with other organisations in your local VCS networks?
  • If you are a regional or national organisation, can you develop partnerships with smaller local VCOs so that they can benefit from the higher levels of resources you have?

Want to know more?

Localism and local governance

 Published by: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) – a UK research agency addressing economic and social concerns.

 Date: 2007

 Format: PDF

What is it? A booklet produced as part of the ESRC and NCVO seminar series, reporting on the processes and implications of governance in the UK.

How useful is it? The booklet addresses the disengagement of people with formal channels of political participation and the corresponding translation of government into governance. It is split into two sections. The first looks at new systems for local participation emerging as a result of governance, creating new spaces and opportunities for the VCS. At the same time however, the VCS also faces a number of challenges which are outlined. The second section looks more specifically at local service provision, and the drawbacks of a proliferation of new mechanisms for public participation.

Other comments:

All our futures: the challenges for local governance in 2015

Published by: Office of the Deputy Prime Minister  

Date:  2006

Format: PDF

What is it? A review commissioned by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister identifying what society will look like in 2015 and its implications for local governance.

How useful is it? The report discusses whether the risks of a truly devolved form of governance would be greater than those of a centralised more uniform approach. It identifies, through research, how society will look in 2015, concluding that difference and diversity will be a key feature. The report suggests that government structures and strategies will need to shift significantly in order to respond to this, namely by taking the decision making and political processes to a much more local level. It then outlines three factors that should be taken into account when planning for the next 10 years.

Other comments: 

Whose town is it anyway?

Published by: University of Liverpool for Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Date:  2006

Format: PDF

What is it?  An in-depth study examining the extent to which local services are accountable to local people in two towns in Northern England.

How useful is it? Based on the findings of research carried out in the Northern towns of Burnley and Harrogate, the report aims to identify the mechanisms through which local public bodies relate to local people and the extent to which these bodies are accountable. The key findings showed that local decisions were made by a plethora of different bodies, and as a result, residents felt they had little influence over local decisions.  The report then lists suggestions for reviving what is described as “failing local democracy”.

Other comments:

Back in England, something stirs

Published by: The Economist,

Date:  14 April 2007 

Format: Web

What is it?  An article reporting on the rising interest in devolution of power by the UK Government.

How useful is it? Discusses the rise in popularity of the concept of devolution in the UK since the overwhelming rejection of a Northern Assembly by voters in 2004. The article suggests that the future may see existing regional bodies condensed into a single executive agency for each region, taking power from the centre and distributing it across the regions. The article questions how these bodies would be made democratic, since they would not be directly elected, and points to involving existing national and local politicians more closely.

Other comments:

Last updated at 15:08 Mon 18/May/09.

Recent comments


Though I believe partnership working can have some benefits, I agree that for community organisations the increasing demands on their time and resources means that the activists in those groups are stretched to their capacity but often don’t see the benefit working both ways. This can lead to a breakdown of trust and a cynicism of being used by others to boost the numbers. It can also lead to being regarded as one of the “usual suspects” all partnerships are not always equal – and can sometimes appear to be used as a cover for exerting control by the backdoor.

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