Joint working for public service delivery wiki
A type of collaborative working
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This guide is aimed at chief executives, managers and trustees of organisations considering or undertaking public service delivery jointly with other voluntary organisations.
Organisations collaborating for public service delivery work with their voluntary sector partners in addition to public sector agencies. The model concentrates on the relationship between voluntary organisations rather than partnership between voluntary organisations and public bodies.
How do organisations work with public services?
Many voluntary and community organisations work closely with the public sector and always have, although many others have no wish to do so. Voluntary organisations may contract with public bodies to provide services or they may receive grants from them to contribute to their core costs or to fund particular projects. Or they may work with them more informally, referring clients to public services, taking referrals from public bodies or sharing information with them.
Public service delivery involves voluntary, community or private sector organisations delivering services that the state usually provides. Views differ on the point at which an organisation can be said to be taking on such a role, but public service delivery can take place in a wide range of fields such as social care, health, education, leisure and environmental management.
Voluntary and community organisations should only choose to deliver public services when it provides an opportunity for them to achieve their aims. Organisations can win contracts to provide a service on behalf of a local authority, primary care trust or another public body. The role of the voluntary sector in public service delivery complements its campaigning and advocacy role - as part of civil society, the sector influences public services and offers advice on them, whether or not organisations are also directly involved in service delivery.
Will a joint project meet your aims?
"I'd be surprised if users knew this was a partnership. The real question is are they getting the best service possible?"
John Reading, Chief Executive, Action for Change, on working with Addaction
The role of the voluntary and community sector in public services has generated much discussion, but the most important question remains whether involvement with the public sector helps organisations meet their objectives. It is trustees' responsibility to ask this question.
If the answer is yes, organisations can examine whether collaboration will be the most effective way to work. This decision should rest on whether collaboration on public services will benefit service users, rather than be driven by the promise of funding or any other factor. Where voluntary organisations have the same or complementary objectives, it may make sense for them to achieve their aims by working together rather than competing.
Each organisation must stick to the objects in its own governing document and a joint project should reflect the objects of all the participants. A mission statement derived from your objects has no legal standing. However, if joint service delivery means developing activities outside your mission, this may indicate that you would be diverting resources away from your core activities. This risk needs to be carefully managed. The annual report of a registered charity should explain how public service delivery furthers that charity's aims.
A voluntary or community organisation's independence is vitally important, however closely it works with another organisation or with public services. Trustees have ultimate responsibility for their organisation and must manage conflicts of interest.
Why collaborate to deliver public services?
The advantages of working with other voluntary and community organisations can include:
- greater overall capacity to improve outcomes for beneficiaries - with more effective management, delivery and monitoring of the service
- lower overheads mean more money for frontline work
- increased capacity for voluntary organisations to replicate on a larger scale a successful service that a small organisation would be unable to scale up alone
- an increased knowledge pool to contribute to a more effective service
- the different specialisms of organisations may enable the service to be run smoothly across subsectoral boundaries eg. education & health
- organisations can share the risk involved in taking on public service delivery
- greater negotiating strength where organisations wish to respond to poor funding practice from a particular public body
- higher levels of trust where organisations have a common culture which is focused on need and quality of service, rather than being money-led
Organisations should articulate to commissioning bodies the benefits that joint voluntary sector delivery can bring to a service.
What difference does collaborating make?
Public service contracts are often big contracts so delivering on them jointly can be the only way for small organisations to get involved. However, voluntary sector organisations collaborating on public service delivery not only have a contract with a public body, they also have to forge and maintain agreements with their voluntary sector partners. This adds complexity to bidding for public service contracts as a consortium.
What to think about
Voluntary and community organisations need to be sure that they can fulfil the terms of a contract before committing themselves to it. Contracts are legally binding so an organisation may face legal action if its terms are not met.
As with all new joint projects, your organisation should:
- make sure the activity fits your aims by providing more or better services to your beneficiaries
- check it is compatible with its partner
- discuss how you are going to work together
- agree respective roles and responsibilities
- consider the effect of the collaboration on the activities of the whole organisation and other staff
Trustees should assess risks regularly and consider the following points before they go ahead with a joint delivery arrangement.
If you are tendering for a contract, you are subject to the timescale of the commissioning body. Organisations working as a consortium may need longer to prepare bids, negotiate contracts and monitor results. Compact guidance states:
'Organisations should have enough time to respond, particularly to larger pieces of work or those involving joint working (for example, consortium bids).'
from Funding and Procurement: Compact Code of Good Practice
Full cost recovery
Collaborating takes time and resources. Organisations should understand the full costs of delivering a service, including the cost of collaborating, in order to set a price for the service. Consider the time spent on management, liaison, meetings and monitoring and the cost of travel.
'Voluntary and community organisations undertake to have clear lines of accountability, especially with joint bids'
from Funding and Procurement: Compact Code of Good Practice
Organisations can jointly bid for funding, but there is usually one accountable body. Collaborating organisations tend to have a joint working agreement setting out their respective areas of responsibility and financial arrangements. These may include distribution of funding and how management accounts can be used to give each party the information it needs for its own reporting. Each organisation would then account for their part in the project in their own accounts.
When they sign a contract, all partners, including the commissioning body, need to be clear about their specific liability, including liability for the defaults of other partners.
Using public money means you will be accountable to the commissioning body and there may be regulatory requirements to be met. You will also remain accountable to your beneficiaries, partner organisations, members and others. Collaborating may put a greater burden on your monitoring systems.
- What are the VAT implications of charging for a service?
- Will payment for the service be in advance or in arrears?
- How can you prepare for a loss of income once the project ends?
Negotiating and relationship management skills are essential when bidding for contracts and become more important the more parties are involved in a project. Where organisations are collaborating to work with public bodies, it is useful to assign someone to co-ordinate different strands of work. This is likely to be somebody from the organisation which is acting as the accountable body. Partnership working takes time, but the skills are transferable and equally useful for organisations' other activities.
If new work involves staff moving from one employer to another, organisations may be affected by TUPE, the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations. Legal advice should be taken on how this applies to you.
Trustees must make sure that they safeguard their organisation's reputation and that its brand is not damaged.
- Have you outlined to stakeholders how working on public services contributes to your objectives? For instance, receiving funding from a public body may represent a significant change to your funding mix - explain to current funders any implications for existing services and how jointly delivering public services will benefit the client group.
- How will partnership with this voluntary sector partner and with a public body affect organisational reputation?
- Have you included communication protocols in your joint working agreement?
- Are your plans for sharing information about individuals compliant with data protection legislation?
- Who will hold copyright for any guidance material that results? - think about intellectual property, design and trademark.
- Have you agreed management and review mechanisms?
- Have you put in place contingency plans? Regular risk analysis is important.
- What are the criteria and arrangements for ending the project? Contracts should include a termination clause.
- What arrangements do you need to make for the end of the project?
Agreements with public bodies
In addition to joint working agreements between collaborating voluntary and community organisations, their agreements with public bodies vary in formality and legal standing. Voluntary organisations can work with the public sector according to:
- informal arrangements which may outline protocols only at operational level
- grant agreements
- memorandums of understanding
- legally binding contracts, including service level agreements
These options and terms are not mutually exclusive. For instance, a memorandum of understanding about the service to be expected by the public body might be used alongside a grant. This memorandum may be known as a service level agreement and may not be intended as legally binding. Whether any agreement is legally binding depends on the intention of the parties involved. If a public body wants to procure a service, a contract is best practice.
'If both parties to an arrangement intend the arrangement to be legally binding it is a contract, even if it is called something else.'
Charities and Contracts, Charity Commission, September 2003
Organisations should seek their own legal and financial advice, rather than using the advisors used by the commissioning body, and should ensure they understand the extent of undertakings made in binding agreements.
For example, it is important to identify any liability the agreement poses to your organisation or the personal liability of trustees. The need for insurance cover also needs to be considered.