Can collaboration between the public, voluntary and private sectors ensure better spending for children’s well-being?

Last week we participated in our member Eurochild’s annual conference, “Children first. Better public spending for better outcomes for children and families”, in Bucharest. The conference addressed important questions around public spending choices. The main theme was that public spending must be for the public good. Investing in children and families is the most effective way of building more cohesive and resilient societies.

Valentina Caimi, Policy and Advocacy Adviser at Social Platform, introduced the theme “public-private partnerships” at the second day’s plenary meeting. Achieving better outcomes for children and families is a common responsibility across all sectors of society. The presentation and the mini-plenary session shed some clarity on the different roles the public, private and voluntary sectors have to play.

The contribution recalled the concept of “social services of general interest” and gave an overview of the most recent EU developments relevant for social services from a legal, political and financial point of view. After outlining some of the main challenges and opportunities that social services face in Europe, we explored a possible pathway for a political debate on the role of the state and of private actors as providers or funders of social services.

The conference put forward the idea that, no matter whom the provider is or the source of funding used (public or private), a profit-making logic should not prevail over the general interest enshrined in the mission of social services, such as contributing to social cohesion and inclusion, and promoting the enjoyment of human rights. As states have the obligation to guarantee social rights, they should set the legal, financial and regulatory framework to ensure that with every kind of provider and type of funding, universal access to quality and affordable social services is guaranteed to all people living in Europe. Public authorities also need to ensure that services are available throughout the whole territory of a country, including rural and remote regions and for difficult target groups.

Public authorities remain accountable for the provision of services even when they decide not to deliver them directly. They should bear responsibility for setting strategic social service policy objectives through dialogue with stakeholders, and for monitoring and evaluating their delivery, by involving users too. They should set a financial framework that guarantees the continuity of provision and, when private funders are involved, they should ensure that donors and investors act in the general interest and that private financing is subject to high transparency requirements.

In the mini-plenary and the related focus group, Bianca Isaincu from Child & Youth Finance International, Kevin Goldberg from Groupe SOSs and Delia Pop from Hope & Homes for children contributed by presenting their experiences in cooperating with the public and business sectors. There was a common consensus among the participants debating public-private partnerships that cooperation with the business sector is helpful for the voluntary sector, as it triggers innovation and as a way to get professionalism and expertise from the business sector. In order to achieve effective collaboration, representatives from the voluntary sector highlighted the need for the business sector to understand, share and commit to the human rights agenda that is the basis of civil society organisations’ work. The main responsibilities of the state and public authorities were emphasised when discussing the need to ensure continuity and inclusiveness of service provision, and the need to bring policy change starting from projects and experiments.