‘Partnership’ working: always a bitter pill to swallow

Hunmanby Gap Cliff Erosion. Cliff erosion at H...
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I find it funny (peculiar not ha ha) that; the much-lauded concept of  ‘working in partnership’ , very rarely meets the actual expectations of those who espouse the rhetoric promoting it. Many elements of public sector management continually promote the strategy however, the operational reality of it is usually different … Why is this?

Another prime example of this problem was evidenced yesterday (27-05-2011) when an exceptionally large quantity of  ‘granules’ were washed ashore on the beaches of the North Yorkshire coast (see below).

Obviously the unidentified flotsam of unknown origin (initially thought to be pills/tablets), was a potential and immediate health risk however, who is responsible for dealing with the matter? And more importantly, who holds the legally defined ‘duty of care‘ to the public?

BBC News: “A three-mile stretch of beach has been evacuated in North Yorkshire after “white granules” were washed up. Police were alerted by the coastguard to Hunmanby Gap near Filey at about 1345 BST. North Yorkshire Police said the items were “white granules of an unknown nature”. The beach has been evacuated and cordoned off as a precaution while the granules and any potential health risk are identified. The Health Protection Agency, Environment Agency and Scarborough Borough Council are all involved in the ongoing incident.”

Despite the undoubted operational difficulties of dealing with the situation in its initial stages, mostly born out of ‘partner’ failures no doubt, and long before 24hrs had expired, the police media machine kicked into motion and were quoted as saying…

“Police are working with partner agencies including the coastguard, fire service, Environment Agency, Health Protection Agency and Scarborough Borough Council to clear the beach and to establish the exact nature of the items and how they came to be washed up on the beach.” (thenorthernecho.co.uk)

In those initial stages of the incident the police will have had great difficulty in securing any immediate action from their ‘partners’. The problem will have been exacerbated even further once normal office hours had expired. A large proportion of organisational and management parochialism will have come into play. Decision making processes will have been delayed, mainly because of financial considerations relating to resources and logistics. The all too commonplace sloping shoulders in the differing agencies will have quickly been developed and all manner of excuses, either genuine or contrived to buy time or abdicate any responsibility for action, would have been offered up.

‘Working in partnership’ is a noble strategic concept however, it rarely works well at an operational level, especially in the initial stages of any incident. Yes our frontline emergency services personnel usually work well together however, once there is any inter-agency management involvement, things start to get difficult. We may plan and train for major emergencies however, without clearly defined roles and remits, that are truly accountable, there is always going to be problems. A factor which is often compounded by the devolvement of budgetory control, to increasingly lower levels over recent years.

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