Preferential treatment for #dpulo (and others) in procurement – good to see

It was great to read this in the Liverpool Echo:

Liverpool council will adopt the pioneering approach when it evaluates bids for contracts.

The aim is to put extra emphasis on using socially responsible contractors and suppliers when procuring the £270m budget for buying in goods and services from third parties.

The council said value for money and the ability of a company to deliver the contract will still be the most important factors.

But additional consideration will now be given to organisations with a smaller gap between the highest and lowest paid staff (pay multiple).

Social enterprises which plough their profits back in to developing the business and firms which can demonstrate clear local benefits will also be favoured.

That is, Liverpool Council has said that it will actively prefer providers that add social value to the city of Liverpool in the way they deliver services.

This is good news. I’ve written a lot about the added value that organisations like DPULOs, mutuals, social enterprises and voluntary sector organisations bring, and it’s great to see a Council formally recognise this in its procurement process.

Way to go, Liverpool. Let’s see lots of your local authority colleagues follow suit!

(If anyone has any other examples of this type of thing, please let me know.)

The need for knowledge networks in spreading innovation

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.

I hope the work of organisations like OPM and the Transition Institute (whose blog Phil and Hannah’s articles appeared on) can help with the prescription.

(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.)

Four cracking posts on public sector mutuals

This post does what it says on the tin: four cracking posts from OPM on public sector mutuals:

(Disclosure: I know OPM and some of its staff well, and have done a bit of work for them. This post is unprompted, though – just in case you were wondering.)

Man walks into a column, no.41: Conferences

I’m writing this in a dingy hotel room in Brussels, where I’m staying for an EU conference on employee financial participation. If you’re still reading by this point then frankly I’m amazed, and tempted to suggest you should get out more. For those still with me (hello Mum!) I’ll continue.

This is only the second ‘international’ conference I’ve been to, the first being almost exactly two years ago, when I was jammy enough to speak at a conference on urban governance in Porto Alegre – home of participatory budgeting – in Brazil. Jammy in that it’s a great city, and secondly because my colleague who was originally invited – a real expert – couldn’t go.

Predictably, my trip to Brazil was one of the most surreal experiences of my young life. My first ever long haul flight was considerably marred by sitting in the seat next to a very very fat walrus of a man, and then having a ten hour stopover in Sao Paulo airport. On the plus side this gave me the time I needed to read the book that had brought my colleague to the attention of the Mayor of Porto Alegre. Reading about democratic urban governance in a strange South American airport is not, however, an experience I am particularly looking to repeat.

The conference itself was completely bizarre, alienatingly so. Unlike the Brussels gig where everyone speaks fluent English, I keenly felt my complete lack of Portuguese and spent the entire time trying to decipher rather sub-par English translation through headphones. Not the most natural mingler anyhow, I spent every available break chain smoking in the blistering heat, and trying to avoid the racist Greek professor who felt a kinship with me due to our having studied at the same university.

This time things feel much more familiar and less overwhelming (not least in that I am rather more confident in what I’m speaking about). And whilst – honestly – there was another obese man sitting next to me on the Eurostar, the seats were rather larger and the journey considerably shorter.

Tomorrow morning I shall be talking about the inherent tension between the Coalition Government’s ambitions for nationwide take up of employee ownership and its localism agenda (how to achieve widespread change when each local area gets to make up its own mind?). I shall mention my belief that yes, the relative lack of evidence about public sector mutuals is an issue but suggest that evidence only persuades so many people, some of the time, and say that we need broadly distributed political leadership to move forward. And I shall underline my strongly-held belief that we must not forget that the mutuals agenda is first and foremost about real people making difficult decisions during challenging times. And then I shall hop on the train again, fervently hoping to be seated next to someone slim.

Challenging mutuals (and policy-based evidence)

The Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) has published a report this week called “Proof of Delivery: A review of the role of co-operatives and mutuals in local public service provision”

In an article in the Guardian summarising their report, APSE’s chief executive writes:

Apse believes co-operatives and mutuals can have a valuable role in running services and that, where appropriate, this should be supported by local government.

So far, so good.

But we want public sector decision-makers to properly weigh up the tangible outcomes of transferring work to co-ops and mutuals before making decisions concerning the future of local service delivery.

You can probably guess where it’s going as soon as that “but” appeared. And, indeed, it goes in that direction pretty quickly, using “but” once again:

But while enthusiasts assume that communities will be galvanised and staff motivation will soar as a result of this model, decisions involving large sums of public money require a solid, evidence-based approach.

It just so happens, of course, that APSE has done the research to determine what the evidence tells us. And what it tells us is that there is

a paucity of evidence to back up claims about the supposed benefits [as to whether] co-ops and mutuals could provide local public services more effectively and at better value.

They conclude that collaboration between the third sector and the public sector must exist in order to deliver public services, noting a complex combination of factors must be in place to sustain this collaborative model. Such factors include enough time to see the benefits and buy-in from a variety of stakeholders (including staff, Councillors, citizens and service users).

Where this conclusion, to some extent, bears out the findings of, say, the King’s Fund’s recent research on social enterprises, there is a notable air of scepticism from APSE about co-operatives and mutuals, which is to be expected from an organisation whose business is based around supporting local authority front line services.

I don’t share their scepticism, and there’s a bit of their argument I’m not so sure about.

What politics allows for is not always evidence-based policy, but sometimes policy-based evidence. If politicians deem something to be valuable – because of ideology, circumstance or some other reason – then, to some extent, actual evidence is neither here nor there.

When it comes to mutuals and co-operatives at the moment, the support from politicians is there. Whilst APSE are welcome to be sceptical, I’m with the politicians on this one.

The Tories get mutuals

Or rather, they don’t, as captured in this nice point from Iain Martin:

In what other club, society or members-run committee would nonmembers (ministers in this case) get to vote for their being granted full membership against the wishes of the existing members?