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Suspicious minds: can the public, private and voluntary sector really get along together?

7 August 2012

This week’s DEMOS Beyond the Games event kicked off with a reminder of the long term ambitions of the Olympics:

  • Regeneration of a deprived community where average life expectancy is a staggering seven years less than the London average
  • Inspiring the next generation of athletes, as well as the general public, to take up sport
  • Boosting London and the UK’s economic prospects with local jobs and encouraging international businesses to set up offices in the capital
  • Transforming the park from an inward facing enclosed space, into an integrated part of the local community

Tough goals, and with legacy the constant mantra of LOCOG, there will be plenty of critics watching closely to see if they can be achieved.  But the responsibility for reaching these goals goes beyond LOCOG and government. It will be partnerships between public, private and voluntary organisations that will put in the graft and ultimately be the drivers of their success or indeed failures.

Take housing for example, a partnership between Qatari Diar Delancey (QDD) and Triathlon housing, (both consortiums) will be working together to create and manage the new communities with private, affordable and social housing within the same developments. When the panel were asked how they would prevent a divided community either side of the train tracks, Paul Brickell, Executive Director of London Legacy Development Corporation suggested voluntary groups such as Discover, the story telling organisation would be vital for integration. But as Brickell acknowledged public, private and voluntary organisations remain suspicious of each other.

Away from the Olympics this was also illustrated by National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA) raising concerns over private company Serco playing a role in bids for National Citizen Service.  High profile failures such as the Work Programme are still fresh in mind.  But with funding cuts forcing charities to act more like businesses, and weekly reports of charities collapsing under economic pressure, never has it been more important for these partnerships to work.

Linda Scott, DP World Chair at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford argued last year that successful private-voluntary partnerships require those involved to leave their ideologies at the door. Stereotypes of evil money making corporates and woolly inefficient charities can get in the way of successful partnerships. But there is hope, just look at the recent collaborations between UNICEF and Procter & Gamble which is expected to eliminate neonatal tetanus; no small feat.

For the bold 2012 legacy goals to be met, public, private and voluntary sectors must overcome their relationship difficulties. They can no longer afford to operate in their own separate worlds; a new level of collaboration has become essential for all.