Tag Archives: co-operatives

Some mutuals reading and listening

By David Bicknell

I just came across a couple of items on mutuals: a piece by Kevin Jaquiss from the Cobbetts law firm about how to register as a mutualised service provider  and a piece on the Baxi Partnership website about a documentary showcasing employee-owned enterprises, including Mondragon.

If you’re interested in Mondragon, there is a BBC radio programme which you can also listen to.

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.

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.

What will institutions look like post-financial crisis? A role for mutuals and social enterprises?

By David Bicknell

There are growing discussions and debate over what institutions will look like in the future, post financial-crisis.

This piece in the latest edition of Dissent Magazine refers to the role of co-operatives in providing innovation in institution reform. It’s a very US-centric piece, but does refer to the Mondragon co-operative model in Spain. Worth a read.

Could mutuals and co-operatives be the future of NHS care?

By David Bicknell 

A BBC website article has set a scenario where mutuals and co-operatives could be more widely used in the NHS.

The piece quotes the example of Sandwell Community Caring Trust, and contrasts the spread of social co-operatives in Italy, where  there are more than 7,000, covering  care for the elderly and disabled, to jobs for ex-offenders.

“Each co-operative is made up of paid staff, users and their families, volunteers and investors. Some or all of those put in their own capital to get it off the ground, but what’s absolutely crucial, is the big leg-up that Italian co-operatives get from the system,” the piece says.

“They pay reduced corporation taxes, have access to specialist banks and are linked together in consortia so they can wield more clout when tendering for public contracts.”

The article suggests that one of the biggest challenges faced by co-operatives is recruiting senior managers with good business acumen and a social conscience – not least because co-operatives are often seen as offering insufficient status and salaries.

Prioritise co-operatives and mutuals to redistribute and create work, says Lib Dems’ Simon Hughes

In  a piece in the Observer yesterday, Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes called for co-operatives and mutual businesses and social enterprise to be prioritised as part of a redistribution and creation of work.

In the wake of  last week’s riots, he argued, “A responsible economy is necessary for a responsible society. Building local, regional and national economies which provide the opportunity for all to participate in for fair reward will build much stronger communities. This will counter the appeal of the gangs and the get-rich-quick merchants. Other people and activity must now capture the energies and abilities of a generation that has greater potential than any we have had before.”

Applying the mutuals model to social housing

If there is one thing that the discussion about the Big Society and the Government’s Open Public Services White Paper has done, it is to open up the ground for debate on a range of issues around public services and how they should be delivered. The words ‘mutuals’, ‘co-operatives’ and the ‘John Lewis model’ are now never too far away from the discussion, as this housing network blog about mutual housing demonstrates.

Moving the mutuals discussion forward beyond the Open Public Services White Paper

By David Bicknell

Some strong words are being expressed about the ongoing development of mutuals and co-operatives by two commentators, Ed Mayo of Co-operatives UK and Craig Dearden-Philips.

Mayo’s article highlights the Foster Care Co-operative, an independent and ethical ‘not-for-private-profit’ fostering agency, based in Malvern, Worcestershire, with three regional offices, Greenwich Leisure Limited is one of London’s most successful mutual enterprises, operating more than 90 public leisure centres in the South East and West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative is a fully mutual housing co-operative in the south east area of Glasgow which provides, manages and maintains quality affordable housing as examples of what people, working together can achieve.

But he warned, there will be challenges for public sector workers setting up new co-operatives.  “We need to ensure that we can provide real help which will guarantee that they are supported through this process, if indeed that’s what they want to do. Any new co-operatives formed need to enshrine the co-operative values and mustn’t be allowed to be ‘fake mutuals’.”

“Co-operatives can only succeed – and in the public sector success is essential – if they are independent enterprises, controlled by their members – staff and users. ”

In his article, Dearden-Philips says this, “What it (the Open Public Services White Paper) does for spin-outs can be more clearly expressed by stating what it dodges. In short, the three ‘P’s. Procurement, Pensions and People. It doesn’t tell public bodies that they can give spin-outs contracts and enjoy support from the centre in doing this. It doesn’t clear the mud about pension-rights for staff joining a spin-out or going back into the public sector afterwards. It doesn’t allow give clear rights to people who want to do this the entitlement to do it, assuming the business-case is there. Compared to the Academies Bill, which made all of the above very clear – with mass spinning out as a result – this White Paper was lightweight.

“All is not gloom. The Government’s own Mutual Support Programme opens in the Autumn and there are signs that the Department of Health’s successful Social Enterprise Investment Fund (SEIF) will also reopen for business soon. Conferences are aplenty, and some have more than just consultants in attendance, notably the Employee Ownership Association’s excellent event this month.

“Further to this, there are also signs that local authorities in particular are rising from the canvas following the knockout blow from this current year’s financial settlement. While a punishing in-year programme has needed to be put in place, absorbing all energy to date, councils are now eyeing the horizon and looking more strategically at the question of how they deal with greater demand and fewer resources long-term.

“The answer many are coming up with is that you can only really deliver more and better public services through a more fulsome engagement with citizens and communities. The public service cake used to be just made of one ingredient: public money. In future, the cake will be more complex, combining public funds, private funds, citizen effort and community endevour. The tailored, equitable services we all want will only come with all of these extra element ‘baked-in’.

“The questions most councils up and down are now grappling with is how to do this. Legacy services are expensive and ineffective but often politically incendiary because of what they represent. Public libraries are an example. The potential for libraries as community-hubs is well-documented but you need to convince people of the need for a new type of settlement for these kinds of institutions to work properly. This includes volunteers on top of paid staff, fundraising on top of public funding, paid for services on top of free ones, a business outlook on top of a social one.

“Where I am driving here is that I think the solution to the big question councils are grappling with lies in social enterprise. This defines social enterprise not in the frame of the public-private continuum, but as an entirely new approach to producing the public goods that most of us wish to see in our communities. For this reason, we should see their development as outside the usual EU procurement mindset that preoccupies most commissioners of services. Local authorities should be freed up from worrying about that and worry instead about how they are going to best combine their own resources with those of communities and citizens. ”

Meanwhile, there are more details here about a potential new source of funding for social enterprise

Mutualisation Briefing

Co-operative and mutuals membership up 25% since credit crunch – now close to 10m

By David Bicknell

The Co-operative sector has grown by more than 25% since the credit crunch, with membership of co-operatives now close to 10m. Turnover in 2o10 was over £16bn, according to a report in the Observer.

The article says that the annual report from Co-operatives UK, to be published this week, will show that as well as  big players such as the John Lewis Partnership and the Co-operative Group performing strongly, a thriving new generation of smaller, grassroots organisations has sprung up.

The report also refers to efforts by some MPs to persuade Chancellor George Osborne to consider a mutual model for bailed-out bank Northern Rock, which Osborne is expected to put up for sale before the end of the year.

How to set up an employee-owned mutual

By David Bicknell

There was a useful piece in the Guardian on Saturday about how to set up a mutual.

The article, ‘From councils to co-ops: how public workers can form a mutual’, suggests “employee-owned mutuals offer an attractive third way to the cuts programme”, and offers an eight-point plan on how to set one up.