Thursday, February 9, 2012

How To Murder a Mutual

A real, living example of staff seeking to form up into a mutual met an early death this week as a group of librarians in a London borough failed to get through a PQQ stage on a tender process. This was not, they were told, because they were crap or didn’t know anything about running libraries, nor that they didn’t have any business sense. No, it was because they didn’t have a balance sheet – or cash-in-bank or bricks-and-mortar – to use everyday language.

They are appealing – and good luck to them. I have also directed to them to Cabinet Office who are investigating what the barriers are to staff groups seeking to ‘step out’ into a mutual or social enterprise.

The problems faced by these librarians isn’t particular to that borough which, I am sure, is an otherwise shining example of good practice and innovative partnership working. It’s everywhere. If it hadn’t been the PQQ that trip-wired them it would have been the local unions or politicians or finance people who tend to prefer things to be either in-house or contracted out – nothing more complicated please.

Well, not everywhere – or we wouldn’t have a business! I am on the train home from one council which will, we expect, shortly see two new staff led businesses in the conservation and work-prep sectors. Yesterday I was with a council where £4m of social care services are soon to ‘step out’ into a new CIC.

Everywhere I go, there are people wanting to do this. People who recognize that the old public sector model is bust and something else that isn’t public or private sector but social-sector is the right way to go. Saving money, improving services, raising motivation and productivity.

That’s why we are doing this. It’s early in the day, but the public sector up and down the land – faced with 30% cuts over 2-3 years has to find new delivery models. They exist – and the independent social business spin out is one of them.

If only the library-commissioners in that particular borough knew it!

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