When the feeling’s mutual

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Public sector mutuals are on the increase as more employees take control of the services they provide. Staff, taxpayers and service users all benefit

This government has made huge progress in backing frontline public servants who want to form mutual businesses and take control of the services they provide.

Britain is in a global race and empowering people to do their jobs in ways they know best allows them to focus more on the local issues that truly matter. The evidence is clear – giving people a stake in their business improves productivity and innovation.

Mutualisation is already having a real impact. By removing wasteful processes, public service mutuals have improved productivity by up to 45%. At the same time, service users report greater satisfaction.

I’ve visited many mutuals and have always been impressed by the sense of ownership and commitment that staff have. They feel empowered to change things and get things done, so they can focus their services on what’s important: the people for whom they are providing services.

For example, 79% of staff at NAViGO, a mutual providing mental health and care services, believe that their trust’s priority is patient care, compared with a national average of 56%.

We want to support public servants looking to mutualise and have introduced a range of new measures. Our £10m Mutuals Support Programme gives fledgling and established organisations access to the professional services they need. Through this programme, we are already supporting 26 different organisations across various sectors.

Cleveland Fire Brigade is just one of the organisations receiving our support. By breaking new ground and exploring spinning out of the public sector to become a staff-led mutual business, it shows how widely such models can be applied.

We have recently appointed 15 new mutuals ambassadors. Experts in their fields, these inspiring individuals troubleshoot concerns, share their commercial expertise and promote this agenda.

Our Mutuals Information Service website offers resources, news and networking opportunities for both staff and commissioners. With around 1,600 visits per week, we know it is a valuable resource for ambitious civil servants interested in finding out more.

The impact is clear. We are seeing successes on the ground – the number of public service mutuals has increased seven-fold since 2010, with 65 live organisations across England. This number is continuing to grow and together the organisations provide around £1bn worth of services.

But it doesn’t stop there – this year will bring the launch of a host of innovative new mutuals, with local authorities leading the way.

Since May, more than 70 councils have got in touch to let us know they are exploring or developing mutuals. Many of the authorities we are working with are breaking new ground by developing models in areas such as libraries and culture, children’s centres, procurement and corporate services, and planning.

Later this year, we will see the launch of 3BM – a joint venture between three London boroughs and an independent partner that will provide school support services locally.

Our commitment to improve public services has been a priority for this government from day one. We know that frontline staff can run their services better.

I would encourage all public servants to look at the potential that mutual models have to give them more power to do their jobs in the most efficient and effective way.

Plenty of advice and support is available: now is the time to act.

Francis Maude is minister for the Cabinet Office

One comment on When the feeling’s mutual

  1. Responder says:

    There may well be some positive reasons for mutuals but many of the existing ones have been driven by the imperative of mutualise or disappear. They remain immensely vulnerable organisations, generally tied to a single purchaser and with a very small base over which to absorb overheads. I suspect as soon as many of these come out from the shield of initial safeguarding agreements they will disappear. Given the vital nature of the services many provide, is this a sustainable long term model of service delivery?

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