Partnerships and the People's Network
By Guy Daines, Library Association, on behalf of EARL, the Library Association and UKOLN
The general context
Partnership has a key part to play in the governments Modernising Government agenda  and is a product of the much hyped joined-up thinking. It recognises that the modern citizen often has to approach a bewildering number of agencies simply to deal with the challenges of everyday life - a death in the family, illness, or finding a job for instance. Therefore the three aims of Modernising Government are:
This is also reflected in Best Value within local government . Each of the four Cs (Challenge, Consult, Compare, Compete) opens up the possibility of a partnership approach. Challenge (Is the service necessary and, if it is, could it be delivered more effectively by other means?) and Compete (what provider or set of providers will offer a quality service providing best value?) are most radical in this respect.
Already local authorities are expected to work in partnership with other agencies and community groups and to act predominantly as community leaders rather than service providers. This is but one of many similar quotes from government:
The days of the all-purpose authority that planned and delivered everything are gone. They are finished. It is in partnership with others - public agencies, private companies, community groups and voluntary organisations - that local governments future lies .
The public library context
There are already examples of partnership working within the public library world. Many authorities manage prison libraries based on a partnership framework between local authorities, the Home Office and the Prison Service. There are often long-established partnerships with the Womens Royal Voluntary Service in delivering services to the housebound and many authorities subscribe to national partnerships such as Launchpad and the Reading Partnership and EARL itself . There are also examples of Information Communication Technologies (ICT) or networking partnerships, some of which are highlighted in this paper. Many of these were stimulated by recent DCMS/Wolfson awards which encouraged partnership working and private sector investment in ICT projects.
A further factor is that most funding sources for the Peoples Network  have social inclusion as a key objective for projects. This too was a strong element in the DCMS/Wolfson awards. It features even more strongly in the Capital Modernisation Fund for ICT Learning Centres , the associated Community Access to Lifelong Learning (CALL) programme of the New Opportunities Fund  and is clearly relevant to the Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) and the Regional and Social funds of the European Union . In most cases the active involvement of the disadvantaged groups concerned, or of the appropriate groups within the deprived neighbourhoods, will be necessary for a convincing case to be made to the relevant funding body.
The ICT context
Almost all public library services in the UK are directly provided by the local authority. This is no longer the case with ICT services in many councils. The requirement, under the previous compulsory competitive tendering regime - that a certain percentage of ICT work should be put out to tender - plus difficulties in recruiting ICT specialists anyway, has meant that the private sector now manages a sizeable chunk of council ICT services, including network development services. Until recently many library services had been relatively independent of central IT units, especially as most library management systems were independent turnkey systems.
However, the large investment required to deliver the Peoples Network, the increasing interoperability between different systems and the heavy emphasis on ICT solutions to service delivery problems outlined in Modernising Government, means that public library networks will be seen increasingly as an integral part of a councils corporate ICT strategy. Therefore, library services may discover that ICT services in their council are managed by a private company and that many of the partners required to deliver the Peoples Network have been pre-determined by the councils corporate ICT strategy. Alternatively, some may discover that they are in the vanguard of networking policy in their authority and therefore have an opportunity to shape their authoritys ICT policy.
What are partnerships?
There is no single definition of partnership. It can be used to describe anything from informal co-operation to joint-venture companies to small projects to major regeneration schemes. The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) is also an example of a specific type of partnership working. It can even be used to describe a style of working rather than a structure - where council ICT services have been contracted out to private companies both parties, client and contractor, are usually keen to stress that they are working in partnership to reach jointly agreed objectives. This is to distinguish it from earlier forms of compulsory competitive tendering where there was often a rigid adherence to contract terms and little attempt to build a constructive relationship between client and contractor.
Two or more organisations acting together by contributing their diverse resources in the furtherance of a common vision that has clearly defined goals and objectives .
There are a number of key pointers to getting partnerships right - like all relationships you need to keep working at it! A typical process would be:
At the start
Defining the project
Managing the project
Loss of control - By its very nature partnership involves sharing responsibilities: skills of influencing and negotiation become as important as directing. Public library authorities need to be sure of their identity and core skills and expertise if they are to function effectively within a partnership. In theory the nurturing of potential partners should precede funding bids but in reality library managers have to be opportunists and partnerships will be formed to chase funding opportunities. Successful partnerships may lay the basis for future success in new projects.
Different perspectives - Even though different institutions can sign up to a common vision and set of objectives, institutional priorities can still interfere. Often this is caused by the different funding mechanisms of the institutions involved, although sector cultures can also be important. For instance: to the library services, offering free access to learning opportunities may be seen as a key part of their mission; to the colleges, however, the fees that come with enrolled students are the main source of income. Different perspectives such as these may take time to resolve and need sensitive handling.
Dealing with difficulties - These are likely to be faced at some time in all partnerships. A clear partnership leader with a troubleshooting role is required, or perhaps an individual, without a vested interest, who is recognised as a referee.
If things really go wrong - The more complex a partnership, and the larger a project, the more difficult it will be to unravel if things go badly wrong and the partnership is unable to deliver on the projects objectives. There needs to be a clear exit strategy and a firm understanding as to how assets and liabilities will be shared on the termination of a partnership.
Sustainability - Many partnerships are based on projects with short-term funding and the question arises as to what happens when the funding stops. Often library managers will have sought commitments from the partners as to future arrangements but these will rarely be binding. There may also be elements of sustainability within the project itself, such as improving the skills base of the library workforce. An act of faith is often involved based on the premise that success is likely to breed further success.
Public/private partnerships and the Private Finance Initiative
Public/private partnerships are the governments preferred method of managing major public capital investment projects essentially they are about levering in capital funding and expertise from the private sector to help finance high-cost projects. They will normally involve the setting up of a joint-venture company (where local authority influence is circumscribed by law) or a non profit distributing organisation (NPDO) outside council control. The loans associated with traditional local authority capital projects are replaced by private sector investment, and the debt charges on the loans are replaced by service charges to the council (or possibly users) for use of the facility or associated services. Such public/private partnerships can be politically contentious.
The Private Finance Initiative is one form of public/private partnership. It is strongly promoted by the government and may be the only realistic option for some councils when major capital expenditure is required. It has been estimated that the Peoples Network will cost 730 million over six years. Some funding will come from central government and the Lottery but local authorities will still be expected to make up the shortfall.
Key principles of PFI
Long-term contract - for an ICT project this would be typically 5-10 years.
Risk transfer - mainly from public to private sector; this has the political advantage of taking the financing out of the Public Sector Borrowing Requirement (PSBR).
Revenue credits - PFI schemes attract revenue credits from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) to help an authority cope with the revenue spending implications of any scheme. Many are concerned that these payments are frontloaded so that authorities may actually profit from such schemes in the short run but face budgetary problems in the long term.
Output specification - this leaves the private sector partner with some freedom in determining how such outputs will be achieved.
Performance-related payments - naturally the private sector company will be concerned to make a return on its investment. Libraries may have problems in identifying the income streams necessary to make such a proposition attractive to the private sector and therefore may be bundled up into more general schemes. Normally the assets will return to the authority once the partnership is over.
A new way of working
Everything appears to be changing all the time. A new vision for public libraries articulated in New Library: The Peoples Network; a transformation in the role and structure of local government; similar changes in every other public sector organisation; and a blurring of the distinctions between the public, voluntary and private sectors. This may be new for libraries and librarians, although, compared to other parts of local authorities, libraries at least start with a tradition of co-operative working. It is important to remember it is new for everyone else as well. Librarians have the opportunity to shape and influence this wider agenda of change through the opportunities of the Peoples Network. But in order to be successful in the new environment we will need to develop the skills necessary to work effectively in partnerships of all kinds.
 Modernising Government. The Stationery Office, 1999. (Cm 4310). ISBN:010 143102 3
 Best Value Site of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions
 Blair, T. Leading the Way: a New Vision for Local Government. Institute for Public Policy Research, 1998. ISBN: 1 86030 075 8
 ICT Learning Centres
 Wilson, A and Charlton, K. Making Partnerships Work: a Practical Guide for the public, private, voluntary and community sectors. Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 1997. (Prepared and printed by York Publishing Services Ltd). ISBN: 1 899987 39 8
Other relevant resources
Public/Private Partnership Programme (The 4PS) - A Local Government Association unit advising local authorities on all forms of public/private partnerships including PFI
Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Public/Private Partnerships and the Private Finance Initiative. (Guidance on PPP and PFI for local authorities.)
Treasury Taskforce on PPP and PFI. (General guidance on PFI for government departments and public sector in general.) The taskforce will soon be replaced by Partnerships UK and you may need to search for this as an alternative. Try the main index to government services at:
Competitiveness Joint Committee. PFI: Getting it Straight: An Occasional Paper. CIPFA, 2000.
Libecon. The UK pages on the Libecon web site provide access to the Annual Library Plans (ALPs) of English public library authorities. Each authoritys ALP will include sections on ICT and partnerships.
If you wish to comment on any issues raised in this paper, please use the Feedback option on the main Networked Services Policy Task Group web site.