OPINION: Develop double acts to make a 'great' sector

"There have been many great double acts, but only one extraordinary partnership," is the strapline of a public awareness campaign that Guide Dogs is running, referring of course to the partnership between guide dog owners and their dogs.

It uses a poster divided into quarters featuring three "great" double acts, such as French and Saunders, Little and Large and Jack and Vera Duckworth, plus a guide dog and its owner.

I saw one of these posters as I travelled to the opening of the New Russell Hotel in Bognor Regis. This is another example of a good double act, this time between two charities (Guide Dogs and Action for Blind People) together trying to make resources work for visually impaired people.

I warmed to my theme. Double acts are an established way of working in many walks of life, but not so evident in the voluntary sector until recently.

Opportunities abound, however.

On the people level there is the increasing willingness to improve the service user/agency relationship by opening up governing bodies, as Mencap has done. There's the recognition of the importance of a good double act between chair and chief executive, which a range of publications and seminars from ACEVO and NCVO offer support with.

There are double acts between agencies working in the same field, such as Age Concern and Help the Aged jointly developing PRIME, an enabling agency for people over-50 who want to set up their own businesses.

And at a macro level, we are seeing better voluntary sector/government double acts like Sure Start make a really positive impact on people's lives.

But there is room for improvement. For instance, in sharpening the Home Office/Treasury double act on infrastructure and capacity building in the voluntary sector. The Treasury's cross-cutting review, the futurebuilders fund, the Active Community Unit's relaunch and the Strategy Unit's report all offer rich pickings for collaborative initiatives.

The Government needs to foster its double acts in much the same way as we do. There are some good "scripts" out there but they also need good editing and the right cast. Eric and Ernie have a lot to teach us, not least that 2 plus 2 can make 5. Whey hey!

GERALDINE PEACOCK, chief executive of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

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