There are many examples of collaboration in Bangladesh between government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the provision of services, including health care, education, water and sanitation. This article addresses the question whether such collaboration is temporary within specific projects, or whether it has brought about structural changes in the government–NGO relationship. The focus of the article is on how collaboration has been conceived, evolved and functioned within the Urban Primary Health Care Project (UPHCP). The views of both parties in the partnership are analysed. The data indicate that NGOs tend to see the government as excessively restrictive, bureaucratic in its attitudes, with a tendency to interfere in their activities, and difficult to trust. The government tends to view NGOs as lacking in capacity, sometimes being involved in corruption and less sincere and committed to the work than it is. These differences in perceptions between the two parties undermine the development of relations based on mutual respect, trust and understanding. The article concludes that current relations with government can at best be described as ambivalent. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.