Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Where is the mutuals agenda NOW?

So where is the mutuals agenda today?   Last week I heard a trio of speakers, each offering a perspective, among them historian Charlie Cattell, Ian Hasdell of the Employee Ownership Association and Lance Gardner of Care Plus.

The over-riding sentiment was that while the world was waking up to the potential of public sector mutuals, this was still a minority sport, practiced by early adopters.  While the benefits were manifest and proven, the feeling among practitioners is that of Humphrey Bogarde that we are at least 'three drinks ahead' of the rest of the public sector.

The barriers are not so much technical and legal but cultural.   There is a problem of 'Blockers' in the public sector - middle-ranking gatekeepers who sit in front of bottom up initiatives.  There is also the mindset of many senior teams in local government who, faced by a financial meltdown, do not think beyond slash and burn or simple outsourcing.  Finally, there is a confidence problem, trying to get organisations steeped in conservatism to try an approach that isn't yet the norm, even though the evidence is getting stronger every month.

The invitation to our local government audience was threefold.  The first was to divest themselves of ideology when looking at public service models.  Mutuals need to be judged on their merits, not through a political lens of state versus private.   The second was to 'Beat the Blockers' - show zero-tolerance to those who suffocate initiative and appeal to staff over the heads of such people, as has worked so effectively in particular councils like Suffolk.  The third was to move mutuals to the centre of strategy, not keep it for one or two person schemes at the edges of discretionary services.   The change augered by public sector mutuals merits being put front-and-centre of local government strategy.

Will mutuals enjoy continued support from the centre or go the same way as the Green agenda, hug-a-hoodie and Big Society?   With Maude staying, we appear to be still on the map.  This may change as time goes on but we still have funding at support from the top levels in the form of a strengthened Mutuals Support Unit.   Where mutuals will fit into the Government's public services narrative here on in is anybody's guess, but one thing is for sure that this agenda will, due the the structural challenges in public services ahead, not simply go away.

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