By David Bicknell
Given the references to mutuals at the recent Lib Dem conference and some comments at fringe meetings at the Labour Party conference, it might be reasonable to expect that at next week’s Tory Party conference, we could expect some forward thinking on taking the mutuals agenda forwards from a practical perspective.
Two areas that might be worthy of further discussion are procurement including competition and lengths of service delivery contracts, and mutuals financing, which are issues that those who want to spin out from the public sector – and those that already have done – are now facing.
According to this story reported by Civil Service World, the Government has said it will take close account of what is happening with the Pathfinder ‘pilots’, before rolling out the mutuals programme more widely.
Although Ed Davey’s comments were actually from last week, they still make interesting reading. Civil Service World reports him as saying the Coalition “has an ambitious agenda” on mutuals and there will be “lots of things we need to learn from [the Cabinet Office’s mutual] pathfinders before we can have confidence to roll it out more widely.”
Davey quoted a study from Cass Business School which found that employee-owned organisations perform better in downturns, and highlighted the importance of employee empowerment. “It is not simply about ownership, it’s also about involvement and engagement; just giving people shares isn’t [enough],” he said.
Davey also highlighted the challenges of attracting finance for mutuals, and of helping them to secure service delivery contracts. Some new mutuals will initially need three- or five-year contracts, he said, to allow them to get established and provide “reassurance” for members.