The Financial Times today features a story headlined, “Public mutuals aim likely to be missed”. In the story Peter Hunt of Mutuo (pictured above) suggests that the government’s expressed desire for 1,000,000 people to be employed delivering public services in employee owned mutuals will be missed, unless the idea gets more support.
Mr Hunt knows of what he speaks. Although the article doesn’t mention it, Mr Hunt – as a partner of the Westminster Bridge Partnership – is a corporate partner in a joint venture with The Co-operative Group and the law firm Cobbett’s, which aims to provide exactly the advice he advocates to prospective public sector mutuals.
In the article Mr Hunt points out that – and I paraphrase – that saying, “you know, like John Lewis” does not a mutual or even (heaven forefend) a co-operative make.
And there’s the rub.
Co-operatives (and to a lesser extent) mutuals are fundamentally about ownership, and open and voluntary ownership at that.
Here’s a question for you. Who in every case delivers public sector services? National government? Local government? Government Departments? In every case? No, no and no again.
People in every case deliver each service to people.
If neither the people who deliver the services or the people who receive the services genuinely express a desire to and want (and are committed for the long term) to run (a.k.a. OWN) those services outside of public sector OWNERSHIP, then the fundamental prerequisite to begin the long and involved process of co-operative conversion is missing.
Or in co-operative terms: member led ownership accompanied by good governance is all.
It may be that the target may be missed because the people involved want the government to be responsible for delivering public services, and not them.