Public service mutuals

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Public service mutuals

by Ed Mayo (secretary general of Co-operatives UK) and Andrew Laird (a director of Mutual Ventures)

Forming an independent co-operative or other form of independent social enterprise allows staff to take responsibility for their own future and that of the public service they provide. The Cabinet Office mutuals taskforce, chaired by Prof Julian Le Grand, wants to see a million people working in public service mutuals by 2015 - around 15% of the public sector workforce – a stretching yet achievable target. To help staff better understand and take advantage of this opportunity, a guide entitled Co-operative Business District has been published by Co-operatives UK, the national trade association for co-operative enterprises, and mutual ventures, a social enterprise which provides support to frontline staff groups. The guide reflects the journey that staff will embark on, from learning about the benefits and risks of "spinning out" to taking practical steps to set up an independent enterprise.

As the guide explains, the shift to a mutual model is one where preparation and patience pays off. It is important to understand the options and issues, because the decisions you make early on are akin to setting the DNA of what is to emerge. That DNA will define what happens for years to come.

Getting the agreement of those who will form the mutual and those who will be commissioning from it, may feel like a luxury in the current climate of financial insecurity. You may have no choice but to move fast. But their support will be vital and their input to some of the early decisions will help build the chances of success down the line.

Use advice where you can, but start with an experienced co-operative development adviser if you do. It is easy to be rushed towards decisions like agreeing your legal model or contract arrangement but by being patient you can avoid making mistakes that you then have todeal with later on.

Setting up public service mutuals is not a new idea of course. There are some excellent examples already in operation, for example:

  • Salford Community Leisure: an employee, user and community owned mutual that runs over 50 leisure centres and community buildings in Salford
  • Harwich Connexions: an employee, user and community owned co-operative that runs various services for young people in Essex
  • Sunshine Care: an employee owned co-operative that provides care services in Rochdale
  • Harness Care Co-operative: a London-based group of of GPs providing out-of-hours and other services

Download Co-operative Business District:

Source: Guardian Social Enterprise Network 13 May 11 -

See also:
Central Surrey Health
Open Door