Making the case for “tilting the table” for mutuals

By David Bicknell

A recent get-together organised by Stepping Out discussed the landscape for mutuals and asked what needs to happen to get the mutuals show on the road.

The discussions are summed up in this well argued blog by Craig Dearden-Phillips.

A few paragraphs caught my eye:

“The general view in the room is that financial weakness – in the form of small balance sheets – is a disadvantage facing spin-outs tendering for contracts. There appears to be a truth that when tenders come up, this sector struggles to show the financial ‘leg’ necessary to get nervous public sector commissioners into bed. Instead they bee-line for safer-looking super-providers. Some would argue that social enterprises should be ‘gifted’ public assets in the form of property to address the balance sheet issue.

“Therefore, to what extent Government should ’tilt the table’ and if so how was one of the talking-points. There is a natural reluctance in many quarters of too much government intervention in markets of any sort. ‘Best is best’ is a common watchword in the world of public procurement. How to behave in markets is also a big question for spin-out organisations. Are they best, in the longer term, to partner up or even fold-in larger healthcare groups in order to gain efficiencies and achieve long-term stability? Or is this too much of a compromise that would water down their raison d’etre as socially focused organisations?

“This one of the unresolved questions facing spin-outs in this sector, particularly as they come up head to head with organisations whose chief competencies lie not in actual service delivery but the winning and fulfilment of contracts, often with third party deliverers.”

The blog makes some good points and appears to sum up the key issues facing mutuals.  To deliver any sense of a future for spin-out mutuals, the question is not whether to tilt the table, but how and when.

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