Hot issue: Should charities partner with the private sector?

At a Labour Party fringe meeting last week, CBI director of public services John Tizard suggested that the voluntary sector should look beyond relationships with the Government when delivering public services.

YES - ANDREW MAWSON, president and co-founder, Community Action Network

The issue poses serious questions not only for charities but for businesses too - their interests are profoundly linked.

Business needs to become more entrepreneurial in its partnership with the voluntary sector and move away from philanthropic giving. Instead, it should look to develop a sustainable product with a charity that can be mutually beneficial.

It can be a win-win situation. Charities can offer social knowledge businesses do not have and can use to their advantage. Motives and consequences are not the same thing. People think that because charities have the right values, they must be doing the right things. But traditional charity can be an engine of poverty if it encourages people to sit back and rely on handouts.

We live in an enterprise culture in which traditional ideas need to be challenged. That is why we need to bring in hard-nosed people from outside who have the project management and business skills required to develop the sector and make it more effective in its aims.

Market interest and social capital are intrinsically connected. The potential of the two can only be realised if they come together.

NO - TERRY PHILPOT, writer and journalist, co-editor, Sweet Charity

The role of the private sector in public services is at best problematic and unproven - in the case of city academies and the NHS - when not deeply worrying, as with the burgeoning influence of venture capital in specialised facilities for very disturbed children, as well as other social care.

Many in the voluntary sector have expressed concerns about its effective transformation into an agent of the state. However, for them now to go into partnerships with private companies would be to enter entirely new territory that presents major new problems.

The two sectors do not share a common philosophy. Private enterprise is fuelled by seeking new markets, and it has one necessary and over-riding reason for doing so: will this or that enterprise make a buck? This applies whether we are talking about a new generation of mobile phones, providing for young offenders or launching a publication.

My instinctive reaction is that social care is not an area for capitalist endeavour, full stop, and I could well see partnerships failing and voluntary agencies left high and dry, having lost money and, more importantly, reputation.

YES - CAMPBELL ROBB, director of public policy, NCVO

Voluntary and community organisations have long played an important role in shaping and delivering public services. There is no reason why they should not consider partnerships with private sector organisations for this purpose where it furthers their missions and objectives, adds value for users and enables them to better serve their beneficiaries.

The relationships VCOs have with business are clearly different from those with the public sector, but many of the same issues apply. Partnerships should be developed for mutual advantage, and VCOs should approach private sector relationships in the same way they would those with the state - identifying potential opportunities, articulating good business cases and negotiating relationships with confidence.

As part of its vision for the future, NCVO aims to develop effective working relationships and greater trust and understanding between the voluntary and community sector and the public and private sectors. By doing so, it hopes to raise awareness and understanding of the value of the voluntary and community sector among those in other sectors, ensure our sector is viewed as an equal partner and encourage greater support and investment in the sector.

YES - JOHN BURNELL, director, Personnel Solutions

Why not? Charities are too often seen as extensions of the state, and the debate is continuing about how far they should replace statutory authorities as service deliverers.

If it's good enough for private sector organisations to deliver public services, then it makes sense for charities to do so too.

But partnerships with the private sector, rather than in competition?

There is always the risk that charities could get swallowed up or squeezed out, particularly if unscrupulous large plcs see an advantage in securing a monopoly. But if we areto take the Government at its word, then regulation should see off the worst of that.

And there are great advantages to such partnerships, too. Charities can learn from good business practice. Perhaps more significantly, the private sector can start to take on some of the best aspects of the voluntary sector - its values, the dedication of its staff, its sense of mission.

Maybe not a marriage made in heaven, but a great improvement on the 'one approach fits all' advocated by those who want to maintain the sector's purity and are happy to see it going down waving its banner of independence.

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