The present Labour government suggests that the 'major drivers for partnership are three R's: the desire to find new ways to share Risk; the ability to access new Resources; and to forge new Relationships' (www.local-regions.odpm.gov.uk/bestvalue/pilot/paper6.htm:4). In this paper published by the Department of Environment, Transport and Regions, Labour suggests that partnership working will lead to new ways of providing traditional services and innovative service delivery arrangements. However, the paper also acknowledges views that this does not sit easily with performance indicators.
'the current performance measures from the government are not looking for innovative approaches, as there is too much focus on specific measures and not on the overall achievements. The cultural change needed is not helped by the Government's negative messages on performance' (www.local-regions.odpm.gov.uk/bestvalue/pilot/paper6.htm:4). This echoes concern over new public management's preoccupation with measurable targets.
When looking at why Nightstop is involved it is clear that we don't work in partnerships for any one single reason, but with different partners for different reasons. My work with the Youth Action Panel is driven by a belief that we can provide a better service together rather than separately. My participation on the Drugs Forum, is based purely on an exchange of information and access to resources. My work with the local authority led, Homelessness Strategy Group is more complicated as we are involved for a variety of reasons not least the fact that, politically, we can't afford not to be. In this way our 'involvement in a partnership initiative is a survival mechanism' (Wilson & Charlton, 1997:13) as in this case 'those who do not play this inter-organisational game are destined to decline and eventually cease operations' (Sullivan & Skelcher, 2002:41).
This particular partnership is part of the governments overall strategy in tackling homelessness and as such its creation has been dictated. In a report produced by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on tackling homelessness, they propose that 'local authorities should consult with other relevant public bodies, voluntary organisations, homeless people and others and include action that they expect them to take' (www.housing.odpm.gov.uk/information/homelessness/morethanaroof/04:5).
Which doesn't sound like choice or partnership. We also have a management agreement with a local housing association and as such are also implicated in the same report's expectation that 'housing associations – work with local authorities to enable them to fulfil their duties to homeless and other vulnerable people. Housing associations should be able to demonstrate their co-operation with authorities' (www.housing.odpm.gov.uk/information/homelessness/morethanaroof/04:6)
This means that political skills as a manager are very much needed as is a comprehensive knowledge of the homelessness sector. Involvement in partnership means that I also have to know on what basis other partners are involved and have a clear understanding of their motives. In order to work well this also involves an understanding of the theoretical frameworks within which differing organisations exist and where these complement or contradict our own. It is a delicate balance of trust and suspicion and an awareness of group work theories on forming, storming, norming and performing are very useful.
The governments insistence that we work in partnership has other important connotations for an organisation that is committed to principles of democracy since working in partnership with local authorities means that we have an active part to play in the way local services are delivered, to whom, when and where. The conflict is in the fact that we are not elected by any community to undertake this role. In terms of a relationship between citizen and democracy, this is weaker because 'citizens are not directly involved in selecting the members of quangos and partnership boards – compared to the voting mechanism and constituency role which applies to MP's and councillors and which gives a degree of democratic purchase on their activities' (Sullivan & Skelcher, 2002:19/20).
This does not sit easily if as an organisation we are committed to principles of social justice. However Himmelman argues that 'the sharing of power amongst different stakeholders is the only way to achieve the vision of social justice' (Sullivan & Skelcher, 2002:38). This can only be possible, I would argue, where members of the community are included as stakeholders. Himmelman (1996) believes that through 'collaborative betterment' agencies can create systems where the community is invited to play a part, as is often the case, but that 'collaborative empowerment' would lead to a 'capacity to set priorities and control resources that are essential for increasing community self determination. The process starts with community organisation and then spreads out to engage public, private and other organisations in the collaborative activity' (Sullivan & Skelcher, 2002:38).
Thus partnership working holds the promise of working towards a more inclusive agenda if we can involve members of the community in that partnership. In Loughborough and amongst the partnerships with which I am currently involved this is far from the case at present but the possibility is there for the future. Being a good or effective manager is, I would argue, more than the simple learning involved in managing one organisation, even if skills are developed to suit that particular organisation. The need for organisations to interact with a wide variety of institutions, organisations, partners and individuals mean that a broader complement of skills are needed if the organisation is to exist successfully in a changing environment.
Thus at Nightstop, all aspects of management, including my own, need to reflect our values and commitment. Only in this way can we be sure that we 'pursue not only (our) early values of respect for persons, but also new principles of equality, social justice and the highest achievable standards of service for hitherto marginalised and devalued groups within society' (Coulshed & Mullender, 2001:10). Our commitment therefore needs to be a tangible aspect of our practice including management, supervision and partnership working.
BLAIR, G, M, (1993) Starting to Manage: A how to guide to communication, organisation and leadership, Chartwell-Bratt (publishing and training) Ltd, Sweden.