Public sector mutuals are a good idea but the coalition just don’t get it

The announcement by Francis Maude yesterday that the coalition government wants to set up mutuals to run our public services is typical of what’s wrong with Cameron and Clegg’s ramshackle regime. On one level the plan seems a good idea – to give people who work in public services the opportunity to run those services. Indeed, the idea of mutual public services is something the Co-operative party has campaigned for throughout its history.

Michael Stephenson is the general secretary of the Co-operative Party

The announcement by Francis Maude yesterday that the coalition government wants to set up mutuals to run our public services is typical of what’s wrong with Cameron and Clegg’s ramshackle regime. On one level the plan seems a good idea – to give people who work in public services the opportunity to run those services. Indeed, the idea of mutual public services is something the Co-operative party has campaigned for throughout its history.

But like much of the coalition’s policy output, what Mr Maude is suggesting falls well short of a genuine mutual approach and is a long way from what progressives would see as the correct application of co-operative and mutual values in public policy.

It is simply the latest instalment in the Tories’ ham-fisted attempt to deceptively occupy the centre ground of politics by distorting progressive policies, re-badging them and pushing them out into public debate under the disingenuous premise that they are anything but a stalking horse for an ideological agenda of cuts and privatisation.

Mr Maude misses the point about mutuals because he neither understands the values of the co-operative movement nor realises that it is not just a question of who runs a mutual enterprise but how it is run and what values underpin it. His plan fails to ensure that public service mutuals – where they are monopoly providers – would have consumer accountability. Local libraries and swimming pools should be controlled by local people, and run in their interest, not just by the service managers.

To be truly effective, public sector mutuals should involve the whole community not just one section of it. And mutualisation is not about de-coupling public services from the state. It is about preserving them as community assets that should not be privatised.

So when the Tories and Liberal Democrats talk about workers running public services they either fail to understand or choose not to understand that a mutual model in the public sector is about all stakeholders having a say in how those services are run. For a school that means not just teachers but also parents and other members of the local community.

That approach is the hallmark of the 108 co-operative trust schools that were set up following the landmark announcement by Labour/Co-operative MP Ed Balls when he was Secretary of State for Chilldren, Schools and Families. It was the approach that characterises the 129 NHS Foundation Trusts established by Labour to involve staff, patients and others in the running of their hospital.

Yet Francis Maude wheels out a selection of a dozen pilot mutual projects of varying size and scope and declares triumphantly that virtually every public service is up for grabs in the Tories’ faux-mutual nirvana. They simply don’t get it.

But we should we expect anything else? This is the party that when they were last in power de-mutualised our building societies; the party that abolished the Co-operative Development Agency. Now they’re back in power they’re at it again.

Hence, the coalition’s decision to axe the fund set up by the last Labour government to support the mutual buy-outs of local pubs, to axe the fund supporting the creation of co-operative trust schools, and to reverse Labour’s commitment to re-mutualise Northern Rock. What the Tories and LibDems are doing is not mutual. Their plans don’t reflect properly mutual structures and they aren’t based on mutual values.

Like the entire coalition, it is based on a false premise and done for the most cynical of reasons.

18 Responses to “Public sector mutuals are a good idea but the coalition just don’t get it”

  1. Andrew Tindall

    RT @leftfootfwd: Public sector mutuals are a good idea but the coalition just don’t get : //bit.ly/dub1Sh by @CoopParty's Michael S …

  2. Co-operative Party

    '@GSCooparty for @leftfootfwd: Public sector mutuals are a good idea but the coalition just don’t get it //bit.ly/dub1Sh

  3. POA Moorland

    RT @leftfootfwd: Public sector mutuals are a good idea but the coalition just don’t get : //bit.ly/dub1Sh by @CoopParty's Michael S …

  4. Kieron Merrett

    @GSCooparty writing for @leftfootfwd: "what Mr Maude is suggesting falls well short of a genuine mutual approach" //bit.ly/chkFNp

  5. Lee Hyde

    RT @leftfootfwd: Public sector mutuals are a good idea but the coalition just don’t get : //bit.ly/dub1Sh by @CoopParty's Michael S …

  6. Michael Stephenson

    RT @CoopParty: '@GSCooparty for @leftfootfwd: Public sector mutuals are a good idea but the coalition just don’t get it //bit.ly/dub1Sh

  7. Richard Blogger

    When I was a kid my parents told me it would be better if I saved my birthday money so I opened a TSB account. Look what happened to them. (OK TSB were not a mutual, but it gets the story going…).

    In my teens I opened a Leeds Permanent account and out my birthday money in there; look at what happened to that mutual.

    When I got my first job I started a pension plan with Friends Provident (oh and got my contents insurance with them too); look at what has happened to that mutual.

    When I bought my first house I got a mortgage with the Alliance & Leicester; look at what has happened to that mutual.

    In fact, look at what has happened to most mutuals. So why do you think that I should trust this “Big Society” idea of “mutualising” public services? It is just a stepping stone towards privatisation. Just like “social enterprises” are.

    It is about time that the Labour Party stood up for public services rather than whimpering in a corner, or treating them as an embarrassment. The Labour leadership should realise that the reason why they lost the 2010 election is precisely because they did not stand up for public services and instead kept alive the nasty, privatising, Blairite “third sector”. Sadly, the Labour party elected as leader a former “Minister of the Third Sector” which means that public services have no hope for the future.

  8. NWL Unison

    RT @leftfootfwd: Public sector mutuals are a good idea but the coalition just don’t get : //bit.ly/dub1Sh by @CoopParty's Michael S …

  9. Spir.Sotiropoulou

    RT @leftfootfwd: Public sector mutuals are a good idea but the coalition just don’t get it //bit.ly/cUhjnV

  10. Mr. Sensible

    This tipifies what is wrong with the ‘Big Society’ agenda.

  11. Larry Gardiner

    RT @leftfootfwd: Public sector mutuals are a good idea but the coalition just don’t get : //bit.ly/dub1Sh by @CoopParty's Michael S …

  12. Keith White

    RT@leftfootfwd: Public sector mutuals a good idea but the coalition don’t get it //bit.ly/cUhjnV Time 2 show how Coop services can work

  13. Anarcho

    I think its pretty obvious that the Tories “mutualism” idea is just another attack on the working class as well as a means to privatise yet more of the public sector.

    Its only benefit is that it raises the issue of workers’ control and socialists can raise the obvious point — if it is so good for the public sector, then why not abolish wage-labour in the private sector as well?

    I discuss this in “Mutualism: Fake and Real”:
    //anarchism.pageabode.com/anarcho/mutualism-fake-real

    It is also obvious, when we compare the Tories ideas with Proudhon’s mutualism, that it falls way short.

  14. The left shouldn’t conflate radicalism with ConDem’s mutualism/cooperatives… | My Political Ramblings

    […] there was a coherent, competent response from the Co-Operative Party on Left Foot Forward, regarding Francis Maude’s announcements of the so-called ConDem cooperatives, Unite’s […]

  15. SJ

    The Co-operative Party is hardly a disinterested commentator; tied to the Labour Party by the Hastings agreement, as a co-operator I’ve always seen the existence of the Co-operative Party as an oddity, contrary to ICA co-operative ideals.

    Under the last Tory government co-operative societies did take over public services – post office counters were closed and replaced by a sub post office in the co-op shop. The postal workers’ union – CWU were so angry they tried to break the Labour –co-op Party link.

  16. Mike King

    Coalition Big Society "based on a false premise and done for the most cynical of reasons." //tinyurl.com/2wljb95

  17. Public sector mutuals are a good idea but the coalition just don’t get it | The Co-operative Party

    […] article first appeared on Left Foot Forward //www.leftfootforward.org/2010/11/public-sector-mutuals/ Post written by Michael Stephenson People: Michael Stephenson Policy areas: Co-operative […]

  18. Legal loan sharks are licking their lips as the social fund scrapped | Left Foot Forward

    […] Public sector mutuals are a good idea but the coalition just don’t get it – Michael Stephenson, November 18th 2010 Share | Permalink | Leave a comment […]

Leave a Reply