By David Bicknell
Despite all the discussion about mutuals – scarcely a week goes by without a new feature being written in a trade magazine about them – it seems the message has yet to reach some councils. A recent Transition Institute blog recently cited having to give a council director an ‘idiot’s guide’ to mutuals.
The blog made the excellent point that with the financial squeeze on local authorities getting ever tighter, hard choices are having to be made to maintain public services. It points out that decision makers care about two things: one, maintaining a level of service so that outcomes do not seriously worsen, and two, saving money.
“Supporting staff ownership comes nowhere near these priorities on the agenda, if it features at all. If a staff-owned provider can deliver on both, then great, but a mutual is very unlikely to be given the kind of preferential treatment it needs and deserves to get off the ground if there’s an established voluntary or private sector provider waiting in the wings.”
What will make a difference? The blog suggests that apart from an effective Mutuals Support Programme, what’s necessary are better knowledge networks than the public sector currently operates which can get over the need for new public service mutuals to have a real impact.
It rightly says: “At the moment we have small-scale, isolated, localised experience: brave pioneers beating a path through dense jungle, feeling like they have to do it all for the very first time, navigating the toughest political landscape imaginable. What we need are networks, a major cross-pollination and peer support effort that goes beyond the vague to the specific and real, and tackles head on the tactics and techniques you need to master to make the case for mutuals, to colleagues and political masters who are unlikely to care all that much.”