Mutuals: After the Big Society, the Good Society…

By David Bicknell

I came across a piece from Public Finance written by Maurice Glasman discussing what Labour’s answer to the Big Society might mean in practice.

There are some interesting thoughts on mutuals here. Glasman writes:

“There is far more to meaningful work than money and self-interest; it is the way we serve and change the world. The workforce is at the heart of this. The Good Society stresses its importance in the private as well as the public sector. This is very different to the Big Society agenda, which does not recognise that capital seeks the highest rate of return and thus creates great pressure to turn both humans and nature into commodities.

“To understand what is at stake here, look at the idea of corporate governance. The Big Society offers two ideas of corporate governance for the public and private sectors. In terms of the state, it prefers a form of mutualisation, developed by Julian Le Grand, in which public services are provided by worker-owned enterprises. There is no balance of interest in the governance of the service provider, and users and funders are excluded. State-funded services have no representation on the board. This is in contrast to the Big Society view of private sector corporate governance, in which the worker has no status at all and managerial sovereignty prevails.

“Our ‘Blue Labour’ approach brings the two together. Reliance on managerial sovereignty is both wasteful and ineffective and does not engage fully the innovation, creativity and vocational energy of the workforce. It is a contractual and assessment-based model that focuses too much on procedure and not enough on developing relationships.

“Instead, a third of the mutual boards should be elected by the workforce. Another third should be represented by users (the involvement of users is an important part of community organising that needs to be undertaken to strengthen society and give voice to disorganised people). The final third of the board should be the local authority or the state, which has a legitimate interest in procedure, wider social goals and its integration into government policy.”

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