Collaboration and the governance of public services delivery

Vangen, Siv; Potter, Karen and Jacklin-Jarvis, Carol (2017). Collaboration and the governance of public services delivery. In: Symposium on the policy and reform trajectory of public services in the UK and Japan, 8-9 Nov 2017, Japan.


In the UK, successive governments over recent decades have initiated a number of inter-organizational collaborative arrangements between public, private and not-for-profit organizations to support the delivery of public services and address multi-faceted, intractable societal problems. Initially the introduction of New Public Management in the 1980s and greater privatisation of Government services resulted in integrated government offices across the English Regions to develop partnerships with and between local interests (Lowndes and Skelcher, 1998), and for example, required local authorities and the National Health Service (NHS) to work with the private sector to more economically deliver public services. More formalized collaborative arrangements evolved from the public-private-partnerships introduced by the Conservative government in 1992 through to a variety of cross-sector collaborative arrangements under the Labour government’s Modernisation Agenda (Labour was in government from 1997 to 2010). New Labour saw ‘partnership working’ as an antidote to the market driven and competitive approach of the Conservative era, the new emphasis being on collaborative solutions to societal ills, including poor standards of education, social exclusion, poverty, poor health and environmental degradation. The need to work together across organizational boundaries was seen in many social systems that were inherently multi-agency, including for example youth work, care for the elderly and children services.

More recently, in a drive to reduce public sector funding and under a localism agenda, the Coalition government of 2010 has removed some of the collaborative structures preserved in legislation by the Labour government, leaving them to local determination (e.g. Children’s Trusts) but retained others (e.g. Local Strategic Partnerships) and are exploring new collaborative approaches, for example in the development of placed-based systems of care. In an increasingly pluralistic landscape, communities have been encouraged to become involved in the ‘co-production’ of their own services and the voluntary sector is (re-)emerging to take up a key role in the delivery of public services, under new models of ‘collaborative innovation’ (Lindsay et al, 2014). At present, owing to continuing austerity policies and the uncertainly of Brexit, public and voluntary organizations are under pressure to collaborate more to cope with an uncertain political landscape, reduction in funding and the need to increasingly work more efficiently.

Overlapping collaborative arrangements have thus long been a reality for policy makers and individuals concerned with the shaping and implementation of public policies in the UK. The need to be effective through working collaboratively across professional and organizational boundaries – making things happen via other organizations, rather than through people (Metcalfe, 1990) - is a firm characteristic of public sector work. The context of public services delivery is undoubtedly complex and this is reflected in research and theory development on collaboration.

In this paper, we aim to provide a brief introduction to the role of collaboration in the governance of public services in the UK. We introduce briefly, relevant aspects of collaboration and collaborative governance and highlight key implications for both policy and practice.

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