Journal of Social Policy

Article

Remodelling the Third Sector: Advancing Collaboration or Competition in Community-Based Initiatives?

LINDA MILBOURNEa1

a1 Faculty of Lifelong Learning, Birkbeck College, University of London email: l.milbourne@bbk.ac.uk

Abstract

In the last decade, UK public agencies have increasingly been required to collaborate with non-state providers to deliver welfare services. Third sector organisations are now providers of services from early years to old age, taking a growing role in children and young people's services in socially deprived neighbourhoods. National policy has recognised third sector expertise in working with marginal groups of people. However, changing relationships with the state have drawn community organisations into new, often uncomfortable, organisational arrangements, affecting their work and their roles in relation to service users and community stakeholders.

This article examines recent changes from a third sector perspective, drawing on data from a study of community-based organisations providing children and young people's services in deprived localities. It considers the changing environment of ‘new localism’ affecting these organisations, focusing on recent plans for local area commissioning of services.

The article identifies some progress in supporting community services in deprived areas but illustrates how the continuing emphasis on competitive contracts and centrally driven frameworks undermines collaborative work and community trust. It argues that such mechanisms may serve short-term state interests but devalue the very community-level work, which is increasingly being promoted to address challenging social problems.