Category Archives: social economy

Unison ready to fight against mutuals and rails against ‘self-interested’ third sector

By David Bicknell

It would be nice to think that the unions might see something positive in mutuals, a new (old) way of doing business, perhaps. Maybe an open mind?

But no. The latest communication from Unison – call to arms might be a better description – is profoundly depressing for anyone who sees the possibilities offered by mutuals and co-operatives. It is dismissively critical of what it calls the ‘self interested’ third sector. I suppose I shouldn’t have been that surprised by the tone.

Here’s a taste of its invective:

“Whilst the Cabinet Office desperately struggles to reinvent the failing ‘big society’ policy the LGA recently reported that less than 3% of councils responding to a survey have had any interest from staff in setting up employee led mutual arrangements and very few intend to encourage or push this route.
“Despite these figures which would depress the most committed ‘big society’ proponent The Cabinet Office are intent on flogging a dead horse are now issuing guidance and changes to legislation to take forward coops and mutuals to make it easier to set them up to run public services:
“This is now for the unions a ‘back to CCT’ moment. In the late 80’s and early 90s we made sure anyone who wanted to pick over the bones of public services were able to support the continuance of staff terms and conditions and we fought hard to enforce TUPE.

“We fought for continuation of staff pensions and made pensions a key negotiating point. We fought against the cowboy contractors by insisting that they had proper health and safety assessments, method statements, competency to do the work and financial security to run public services without going into bankruptcy.

“This latest missive from the Cabinet Office should remind us as a union to dust down the old CCT advice. It is no different now to then in many ways – if enthusiastic amateurs attempt to run local public services they should be held to account in the same way that we held private companies to account under CCT.

“Public services shouldn’t be put at risk nor public sector workers thrown onto the scrap heap because councils or other employers are seduced by the language of good intent spun by the self-interested third sector intent on privatising public services.”

So, I guess we should probably take that as a ‘No to mutuals’ then.

Rounding-up coverage of David Cameron’s planned Co-operatives Bill

By David Bicknell

Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement of  a forthcoming ‘Co-operatives Bill’ to consolidate outdated pieces of legislation governing co-operatives and mutuals into a single statute has been heavily commented on in recent days.

Cameron said the Co-operatives Bill would cut red tape and help to build a fairer economy, ensuring that co-operative members can share in the benefits of enterprise. 

Here is a round-up of coverage in the last few days about the planned bill and about co-operatives and mutuals.

Co-operatives UK

The Daily Telegraph

The Guardian

The Economist

Transition Institute

Clegg speech renews Coalition mutuals and employee-ownership focus

By David Bicknell

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has advocated greater employee-ownership.

In a speech yesterday to the Corporation of London, he described employee share ownership as “a touchstone of liberal economic thought for a century and a half and a hugely under-used tool in unlocking growth.”

As this report explains,  he suggested that employee-owned firms could end the ‘standing feud between capital and labour’.

“We don’t believe our problem is too much capitalism: we think it’s that too few people have capital. We need more individuals to have a real stake in their firms.”

It could be the latest kick-start the mutuals and employee-ownership initiative needs. (And John Lewis’s marketing department must be wallowing again in the free publicity)

Not all coverage of Clegg’s speech has been positive, however, with Nils Pratley in the Guardian calling the employee share-ownership  ideas ‘half-baked’.  Pratley says the speech raised more questions than answers.  But in fairness, I don’t think Clegg’s intention was to lay out a complete White Paper for action. It was merely to continue to put employee ownership on the agenda for discussion.

Text of Nick Clegg’s speech

Transition Institute’s weekly round-up of mutuals and spin-out stories

By David Bicknell

Here is a link to the Transition Institute’s weekly round-up of mutuals and public sector spin-out stories.

NB The link  on the Transition Institute site to the Public Service article on procurement change and SMEs on 13th January doesn’t work. The link below does, however.

Pace of procurement change frustrates innovative SMEs

A swift round-up of 2012 previews, mutuals and social enterprise stories

By David Bicknell

The Transition Institute has done a good job of rounding up some of the New Year look-ahead pieces around social enterprise, mutuals and what 2012 has in store for local government, health and social care.

You can see the round up here

Some post-Christmas reading on mutuals

By David Bicknell

It’s a few days after the Christmas closedown and time to browse a few sites and catch up on articles written around Christmas but which possibly got missed in the festive rush.

I liked this piece from Dom Potter, director of the Transition Institute  in the latest issue of Ethos magazine.

He argues that the Public Services (Social Value) Bill currently going through Parliament may have a very real impact on those who work with or deliver public services for years to come.

“The Bill aims to reform the commissioning process undertaken by public sector commissioners to consider how they can maximise the ‘social value’ – the social, economic and environmental wellbeing – of local areas through public procurement,” he says. “The changes in the Bill, should they come into full force, will have a profound impact on the commissioning and procurement of public services in the decades ahead. The focus will shift from the bottom-line price or cost of a service towards the overall value of the outcomes delivered.”

Over the Christmas period, I caught some of the marvellous 1951 film version of Scrooge with the incomparable Alastair Sim in the title role. So with a lack of joy, Christmas spirit and misery in mind, I give you the Shadow Civil Society minister Gareth Thomas, who argues  in this piece that the government’s mutuals project is failing.

Bah, Humbug!

Hammersmith & Fulham mutual Pathfinder on track for ‘early 2012’ launch

By David Bicknell

I recently  spoke with the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham about their mutual ‘Pathfinder’ project, which is due to be up and running in 2012.

The current plan is for all three boroughs  – the other two are Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster – to join the mutual in ‘early 2012’.

The three boroughs are now developing the full business plan for the mutual and are looking at the sustainability of the project, with a shadow board of directors meeting regularly to discuss and work out the finer details about how to bring the three teams together across the boroughs.

Other work is going on to finalise the tri-borough mutual vision statement and create a company name (word has it that the current working title is 3BM: Three Borough Mutual) and logo ,which all staff members have been able to contribute to  to reinforce the employee ownership of the scheme.

Meanwhile a mentor from the John Lewis Partnership is working with the fledgling mutual to provide what’s described as ‘invaluable support’ on the shareholding model.

Why those driving the creation of public sector mutuals are Investors, not Conservers

By David Bicknell

All those considering setting up public sector mutuals like Hammersmith & Fulham  – and those in the middle of running successful mutual pathfinders such as Central Surrey Health – know the importance of investing in their vision and backing it.

That’s why I liked this piece by Craig Dearden-Philips, who while discussing third sector organisations, makes a distinction between Investors and Conservers.

“My guess though is that the people who make the biggest difference in the world , certainly socially, are almost all on Investors. These people are not ‘born’. They make a choice about how to live. They know that the Investment Principle works – and they live by it.

“Of course, Investment isn’t just a one way street. Investments frequently don’t pay off. In people, in relationships, in business. You get burned as much as you get it right. And investments that are not made judiciously, in people or ventures that are wrong to begin with, are not defensible either. Being investment-minded isn’t about being a soft-heart. But it is about understanding the powerful link between investment and reward and making this, somehow, a feature in the way you operate.”

Wise words.

Getting the mutuals message across more effectively through knowledge networks

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.”

UN asked to help create a ‘level playing field’ for co-operatives

By David Bicknell

There is a growing call from the mutuals and co-operatives sector for the business environment to be made friendlier to enable them to thrive.

That message has now made it to the United Nations, where Dame Pauline Green, President of the International Co-operative Alliance, called for nations to take co-operatives much more seriously. 

As Co-Operative News reports, Dame Pauline said, “..member-owned co-operatives are a serious business model – with scale. And so, co-operatives are asking that the specific and unique legal and financial framework of a co-operative is fully acknowledged and recognised in public policy and regulation.”

“Co-operatives are asking that there should be a greater diversification of the global economy, to ensure a level playing field for the member-owned model of business.”

Dame Pauline said the sector’s “commitment to our democratic and social agenda is built on a sound and successful member-owned business model” that means operatives can compete successfully in the marketplace with other forms of business.