My good friend Phil Copestake – Head of Communications & Strategy at OPM, expert on mutuals, and all round bloody nice bloke – has written an excellent post on the realities of delivering mutuals at the moment. For me, the key paragraph is this one:
What this means is that – in my experience anyway – council decision makers care about two things, and often two things only: maintaining a level of service so that outcomes do not seriously worsen, and 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.
Fortunately, there is a prescription for this:
The answer is probably something that sounds familiar, but only because we haven’t cracked it yet. In her excellent post on this blog last week, Hannah Jameson from the IPA hit the nail on the head: when she said that knowledge networks are notoriously weak in the public sector, but emphasized how essential they are for new public service organisations to have a real impact.
Hannah’s post is indeed excellent, and her point is the right one. This is nicely demonstrated by her example:
A recent survey of public sector innovation by NESTA showed that 70 per cent of those questioned believed that they had developed a new to sector innovation. Analysis of the examples given showed this was far from the case, but weak networks meant that people were working in isolation, unaware of what others were doing.
(It would be remiss of me not to mention the work I’m doing regarding Disabled People’s User-Led Organisations. These are another form of organisation that can contribute to the delivery of public services, as well as represent the voices of disabled people in their local communities. Part of the Strengthening DPULOs Programme is essentially the creation of a knowledge network. You can find out more on the DWP website and the programme’s Facebook page.)