At Work: Partnerships - Collaborators - Non-profits working together - Joining forces for the kids' sake

Mathew Little

A group representing voluntary and private sectors has scooped a £10m contract.

The Together for Children partnership, which last month won a coveted contract from the Department for Education and Skills to set up children's centres across England (Third Sector, 25 October) could represent the future of voluntary sector involvement in public services.

Two charities - 4Children and Continyou - came together with three private sector organisations - Serco, CareandHealth and PA Consulting - to fend off competition from about 30 major consultancies to win the £10m contract.

Such cross-sector partnerships seem to be favoured by ministers engaged in public services reform. The National Offender Management Service, which has promised to open £9bn of services to competition from the private and voluntary sectors, has indicated a preference for consortia. And a recent poll of business people showed faith in the potential of joint ventures.

"We were very aware that if our two charities bidded alone we wouldn't get the contract," says Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children.

"So we were keen to look for partners who could bring their own experience, expertise and capacity."

The contract involves helping local councils set up children's centres that provide under-fives and their families with integrated services covering core areas such as childcare, health and social services.

4Children and Continyou have already collaborated on developing extended schools across the country. 4Children worked on the childcare element of the programme and Continyou on its education components. A similar division of tasks will be applied to the Children's Centres project. Laurence Blackhall, chief executive of Continyou, says: "We've had great success with our schools programme and wanted to bring some of what we brought to that project to Children's Centres."

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