Friday, June 04, 2010

Mutual Benefit?

Whilst enjoying half term I have been forced to think about the role of mutuals or co-operative social enterprises in the delivery of public services. This is of pressing local interest to me.

Labour presented "mutualisation" as a "progressive" alternative to David Cameron's Big Society (and Barnet's "EasyCouncil") in the recent General Election campaign.

This was backed up by a Cabinet Office publication in March and based upon a "pledge" from 115 local Labour Groups;

"We want to protect frontline services. Where appropriate, we shall do this by giving citizens and communities real power to take responsibility for running services themselves, freeing up resources to guarantee services for the most vulnerable. This will not only save money, but also help build stronger communities, local leadership and services that are more responsive to local needs.

Labour councils will draw on co-operative values to give power to all of us – as residents, service users, carers and staff. We will use whichever models are most appropriate to different services and different communities, including co-operatives, mutuals, or services with greater involvement from service users and the community.

Such services must embody public-sector values, and we will ensure that where public money is spent, organisations are run in the interests of the whole community rather than the narrow sectional interests of one stakeholder group against another, and with the highest levels of financial probity under accountable public scrutiny.

Co-operative values will also shape the way that we seek to rebuild our local economies, ensuring that they serve our collective needs as people, putting long term social benefit ahead of short term private gain."

This statement reflected the work of a growing lobby for the "mutualisation" of public services based upon those with an interest in the co-operative sector.

What should we make of this?

When the Tories offered support for co-operative delivery of public services, UNISON's General Secretary was forthright in his response; "This is another ploy to break up public services, plunge them into confusion and then let the private sector pick over their bones."

Also, during the General Election campaign, UNISON's Head of Education said of Tory plans for Sure Start; "They say Sure Start should be the first of their public-sector co-operatives. If that happened they would drive down standards."

Labour's plans for the "co-operative Council" are also now attracting criticism - as we consider how to respond as trade unionists the question in my mind is whether there is in fact a "progressive" difference between the Tory plans which UNISON slated before the General Election, and what we are now being offered by Labour Councillors?

And is the NEC's opposition to Amendment 42.1 at National Delegate Conference consistent with what we as a Union have recently said in public?

Watch this space.

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