Mutuals do things differently, unshackled by rules – Francis Maude

By Tony Collins

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has asked MPs to visit public sector sites that have created co-operatives to see how they have changed their ways of working.

He told a committee of MPs:

“I can point you to some fantastic ones where people are just thinking in sometimes tiny ways, ways of doing things differently, that deliver a better service for less money because they have thought about it.

“And they are not subject to some hierarchy and some set of rules that prevents them doing it. They just do it.”

Ian Watmore, permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, told the same hearing of the Public Administration Select Committee, that he and his colleagues will be publishing a White Paper on proposed reforms. 

“I believe mutualisation will be a big part of that and it will enable the Government to deliver on the reforms that it has already set out and it will trigger new reforms as people come up with more innovative ideas at the front line,” said Watmore

Maude said that mutualisation will help to bring about massive decentralisation. “I would recommend, with the interest this Committee has, going and visiting some of these mutuals because the way in which they operate.”

The workers “do things fantastically differently”, added Maude.

The committee’s chairman, Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin told Maude that if he wanted to develop good examples of decentralisation, his intentions should be set out in a plan.   

Said Jenkin“If your plan is to develop supreme examples and really good examples of decentralisation and innovative ways of doing things, well then set that out, because having a plan is an act of leadership and without an act of leadership there won’t be change.” 

Maude replied that setting out a plan and processes could kill mutualisation. He said:  “When we started talking about how we are going to support mutuals, the first response was: ‘Well, we need to have a plan, a programme, and devise rights and systems and processes.’ And when I reflected on that, I thought, ‘I could not think of a better way of killing the idea dead.’

“… The right approach is to find people who want to do this and support them, and as they try and set up their cooperatives and mutuals find out what the blocks are.”

Kelvin Hopkins, a Labour member of the committee, asked Maude whether mutuals would be less accountable to Parliament. Maude’s replies appeared, in part, contradictory.

He said mutuals could turn out to be more accountable. But when Jenkin said later that decentralisation means a “stretching of the elastic bands of accountability in the traditional sense”, Maude replied:

“Yes, totally.”

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