In the second of our series of articles on service delivery options for public sector asset management we explore the advantages and potential pitfalls of working in partnership with other public sector organisations.
Collaboration with other public sector organisations
A service delivery option which can be complimentary to in-house service provision is where two or more public sector organisations collaborate to deliver their asset management services or initiatives. There are several collaborative asset management initiatives in which all public sector organisations can participate:
- One Public Estate - this is an established national programme for England delivered in partnership by the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Office of Government Property (OGP) within the Cabinet Office. One Public Estate began in 2013 with just 12 areas and has expanded to include more than 300 councils on projects transforming local communities and public services. By 2019-20 the programme was estimated to have generated 44,000 jobs, released land for 25,000 homes, raised £615 million in capital receipts from sales, and cut running costs by £158 million.
- Welsh Government, Ystadau Cymru - Public Sector organisations in Wales take a pro-active approach to collaboration through the establishment of the Ystadau Cymru Board, where representatives from the Welsh Government, councils, the NHS and other public sector organisations meet to develop collaborative initiatives such as training programmes, grant funding schemes, public sector hubs or shared use assets. They have produced a Collaboration Toolkit, setting out how public sector organisations across Wales can best collaborate on a regional basis to use their assets to contribute to the Seven Well-being Goals of Wales. It is based on evidence from a 2016-17 Cwm Taff pilot study commissioned by the Welsh government involving two local authority administrations and their public sector partners.
- Scottish Futures Trust is a company established and owned by the Scottish government to work with public and private sector partners to deliver infrastructure programmes and improve the management of existing buildings. It has delivered over £1.3 billion of savings in the ten years of its operation up to 2019.
In addition, many local authorities have collaborated with their neighbours to share officer expertise and there is a steady stream of local reorganisations of councils driven in part by the potential savings that can be generated.
Successful collaborations manage the risks and break down barriers in order to maximise benefits. The first step is to establish a forum for the sharing of information and development of collaborative projects. The forum and its constituent partners should then consider applying the following principles of successful collaboration:
Shared vision and motivation - Showing a shared commitment and dedication to key goals and objectives for the area is one of the key success criteria. These may be similar to the corporate priorities of the local authority but other public sector organisations such as the NHS, or in two-tier areas other local authorities may wish to include some of their priorities into the work of the collaborative forum.
Committed leadership- The leadership of the respective partner organisations needs to demonstrate commitment and support to the work of the forum. Without this, collaboration will flounder and there will be a lack of confidence within the partnership to deliver the changes that are necessary.
Sharing benefits- Collaborative projects work best when partners or their service users are able to benefit from the outcome. This can be by improvements to quality of life, for example by releasing land for more much-needed new homes, revenue savings from sharing accommodation or revenue income for the owner of the shared building.
Embracing change- Partners may take the lead on a pilot project, help to develop and trial new processes, outline a successful approach that they have already implemented or report back on their participation in a conference or industry initiative. To deliver improved outcomes, this sharing of best practice should be disseminated through the partnership and, where benefits can be demonstrated, changes should be adopted by the partners.
Openness and trust - Collaboration requires trust and trust comes from being open and honest in dealings with partners. The collection and open sharing of data across the partnership is one of the keys to its success. This helps to set priorities, identifying the quick wins from ‘low hanging fruit’ and where the biggest benefits or largest savings might be generated.
Mutual respect and understanding- Whatever the respective hierarchy that exists outside of the forum, it should operate in a non-hierarchical way. Everyone has an important contribution to make regardless of their status. Partner organisations may have different values, cultures and ways of working. Participants must feel able to present differing perspectives and be received with mutual respect and understanding if collaboration is to work.
Relationship building - Although it can bring great benefits, working with other organisations is more complex than working alone. Its success rests on a combination of formal and informal ways of achieving good working relationships on both an organisational and an individual level. Some public sector organisations may be in competition with each other and may be unable to share potentially commercially sensitive information with each other in meetings. In these circumstances an appreciation of this situation is essential and informal relationship building outside of formal meetings will be just as important as any formal arrangement. Unlike the selection of external service providers and constructors, public sector organisations cannot always choose their public sector partners. Every public sector partner has the responsibility to make a careful choice as to who can make the most positive contribution to the work of the forum. The individuals should be best able to demonstrate collaborative working behaviours, as well as contribute their skills, experience or expertise. They should also be empowered by their respective organisations to make decisions, although it must be recognised that there will be key strategic decisions that may need to be taken by the respective public sector organisations.
Open communication- Maintaining positive relationships among partners can be complicated by a variety of issues, such as competing interests or concerns about confidentiality. Only through open communication can collaboration partners trust one another, and without trust there is a risk that the collaboration will falter.
Collaboration can take a number of forms and the following collaboration continuum model illustrates the extent to which organisations may collaborate;
Co-existence - This is the relationship that many public organisations may have with one another. They may know of each other’s existence and have a broad idea of their role but have yet to collaborate on any meaningful basis. It should be the role of all public sector organisations who are members of a partnership forum to move on from this relationship.
Co-operation- When data, plans, capacity and expertise is shared between public sector partners, it will no doubt become clear that some organisations have greater capacity and expertise. It may also become clear that there are gaps in knowledge and expertise that need to be filled. This and other themes will be fruitful areas for the forum to develop plans for the sharing of skills, knowledge and information.
Co-ordination - The greater the use of data sharing and the sharing of future asset management plans are all ways in which public sector organisations can co-ordinate their efforts and ensure a more joined-up approach to the delivery of public services.
Collaboration- There should be many opportunities for forums to develop collaborative initiatives. Reviews of properties within particular localities, collaborative procurement and contract management are just some examples.
Co-ownership - Partnership fora can examine opportunities for shared accommodation, public sector hubs, the pooling of assets. The sharing of property services either by two or more organisations being hosted by one. Establishing a joint venture local authority trading company (LATC) or allowing other public sector organisations to take up shares in an existing LATC. There is more information on LATCs in the next of this series of articles.
Whatever the format of the collaborative forum, whether it is a regional One Public Estate Board or your own multi-agency property review group, workshops can be held where these principles and success criteria can be applied where the partners work together to identify opportunities for collaborative programmes and initiatives. Delivery teams can then be established to take forward the projects and any success should be shared and celebrated to encourage more ideas to be pursued and take root.
David Ayre, CIPFA Property Manager
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Highways Asset Management Planning Network