Are we sleep-walking towards a Big Six in public services?

By David Bicknell

David Cameron is due to meet the Big Six energy companies to persuade them to rein in their  price increases.

But are we in danger of sleep-walking towards a Big Six in public services too? This piece by the excellent Craig Dearden-Phillips makes some strong points about a ‘possible cartelisation of public services’.

He argues that the government needs to be ‘more categoric about mutuals and  social enterprises. This sector doesn’t really have much chance in a free-for-all. Government commitment to seeing a strong mutual sector, backed by the will to see it done, is what is needed now if the diversity spoken of in the public services white paper is to be more than just a wish-list. Diversity needs to be deliberately created as markets need to be ‘made’, he says.

Incidentally, an earlier piece by Dearden-Phillips refers to the situation in Stroud where a court order was successfully applied for to stop a social enterprise being formed to take forward former NHS services. You can read more about that case here

Much has been written about Central Surrey Health’s bid for a contract that has already prompted much jump-the-gun downbeat thinking about the prospects of mutuals. Baroness Jay was the latest to weigh in on the contract according to  a report last week.

I would suggest that perhaps it’s time for a bit of perspective here. It’s one contract; and it’s not the only contract that Central Surrey Health is bidding for, I’m sure. Business’s  fortunes  don’t depend on one contract; they bid for numbers of pieces of work. They win some; they lose some. Hopefully they win more than they lose.

I would expect that if Central Surrey Health has lost this opportunity – and I have yet to hear any public comment from it that it has – then it is already  looking ahead to the next one – or ones – after that. And then further opportunities too.

Surely the fortunes and prospects for the mutuals sector don’t just rest on the back of one NHS mutual, and one contract. A bit more positivity and perspective wouldn’t be a bad idea.

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