By David Bicknell
Council staff across three London boroughs who are setting up their own employee-led mutual to take over school support services expect to save a million pounds over four years.
The three councils – Hammersmith & Fulham, Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea – already share several services, which they say is enabling them to reduce back office costs to help protect frontline services from the public spending squeeze.
Now, a statement issued by Hammersmith & Fulham for the three councils says the staff involved in supplying support services for schools across the boroughs are “putting the finishing touches to plans to set themselves up as an employee-led mutual.”
Andy Rennison, assistant director in Hammersmith & Fulham children’s services, who has been leading the mutual project, said, “Staff in these areas have experience of trading with schools and are excited about the new challenge. We feel that having more control, flexibility and being able to develop a more commercial approach will benefit schools, the mutual staff and the three councils.
“If the venture is successful, and we have every reason to think so, the councils will receive 50% of the mutual’s net profit to reuse in providing educational opportunities.”
The mutual will pilot the new arrangements for four years, with support from a joint venture independent sector partner, currently being selected through European procurement processes.
Hammersmith & Fulham says an open day for potential bidders held on January 24 attracted around 60 delegates.
The project is being supported by the Cabinet Office which picked Hammersmith & Fulham to be a Pathfinder to explore new ways of delivering public services more efficiently. The services include financial management support and budget planning, IT and building development projects, as well as strategic advice to councils.
Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, said: “Front line staff know what local people want from public services. The mutual model being pioneered in Hammersmith & Fulham will give staff the power to do things the way they know works best. The evidence is clear, when staff have a real stake in their business productivity rises and customer satisfaction grows.
“This Pathfinder mutual is particularly groundbreaking as staff are forming a ‘joint venture’ with a partner organisation that will help to develop the business further. I commend the staff leading this exciting project for their achievements and hope many more will follow their lead.”
“We are very pleased that staff across the Tri-borough area are excited about this opportunity and taking the lead in this Pathfinder. After the initial four years, the service will be retendered on the open market to ensure that taxpayers continue to get the best possible value for money in the longer term,” said Hammersmith & Fulham cabinet member, Cllr Helen Binmore.
Independent adviser OPM was asked by the Cabinet Office to provide expert support to Rennison and his team as part of the Pathfinder programme.
OPM chief Executive Hilary Thompson said; “Elected members, managers and staff at Hammersmith and Fulham have shown real commitment and energy throughout the process of developing the staff mutual. This is an innovative example of a council recognising and seeking to realise the potential of employee ownership and new ways of working.”
It has emerged that academies and free schools will provide a future opportunity for the mutual to extend its services. There are currently two free schools and two academies in Hammersmith, with more in the pipeline.
Further background information on the mutual is being made available in a Hammersmith & Fulham Cabinet report.
(Thanks to Ian Makgill of government contracting specialist Govmark for his help with this story)