Cooperative Councils – Mutualisation or Marketisation

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2013 Local Government Service Group Conference
19 February 2013

Conference notes the continued promotion of co-ops, mutual and social enterprise by the Coalition Government as being a preferred delivery of local council services. This interest in mutualism is driven by the Coalition Government’s flagship agenda of the Big Society. By giving public sector workers a right to form mutuals and co-operatives, the government claims to be progressing the key themes of the ‘Big Society’ such as devolution of power to communities and offering a greater role in public services for voluntary and community organisations and other civil society organisations.

Concerns have also been voiced over the lack of evidence of success for mutuals and co-ops in the delivering public sector services and so this agenda potentially presents significant risks for the quality of public services delivered. Lack of evidence of success of mutuals leads to key questions on the ‘real’ advantages mutuals have for their employees/ members. The Coalition’s claims ‘ownership, community, freedom, and entrepreneurs’ sound highly appealing, but the lack of evidence detailing the real possibility of these, suggests they are currently unsubstantiated .

The Government’s approach to co-ops and mutuals contrasts with the principles outlined by the International Co-operative Alliance, the General Secretary of the Co-operative party, warned that the government’s plans for public service mutuals fails to ensure accountability, a key international principle of mutualism.

Conference believes that mutualism is just the first stage to marketisation. Driving out more functions to the market through public service mutuals and co-operatives creates fragmentation, leaves mutuals and services vulnerable to competition and takeover by private sector competitors and potentially worsens working conditions and job security for public sector workers.

Evidence from the outsourcing and marketisation of public services suggests that in many cases additional costs are incurred and, increasingly, public sector organisations are looking to in-source services in order to achieve greater efficiency and better value for money for the taxpayer.

The Co-operative Councils Network is a network of Labour Councils that are implementing co-operative policies and ways of providing services. Over 25 councils and opposition Labour Groups have been invited to join the network including some of England’s largest metropolitan boroughs, from Newcastle to Lambeth and the Network is run by the Co-operative Party supported by the Local Government Association Labour Group.

The network incorporates a range of councils adopting different approaches to the promotion of co-operatives, from a broadly defined concept of co-operation between employees, council leaders and service users in the design and delivery of services to authorities actively promoting the spin out of co-operative enterprises. To councils that openly prefer the commissioning of services.

UNISON has organised for branches whose employers are members of the cooperative council network, to come together on a regular basis to monitor the progress of the introduction of mutualisation and to share best practice on how to ensure our members are best supported and organised.

This conference calls on the SGE to:

1)Continue to support branches to campaign for the retention of services to be delivered in-house,

2)Maintain and support the UNISON branch network of co-operative council branches,

3)Publicise the impact of mutualisation on members terms and conditions and the services they deliver, across all Local Government branches

4)Continue to publish guidance, and to offer support to branches facing the imposition of mutualisation by their employers.