Government support for mutuals

The Open Public Services White Paper, published in July 2011, sets out the government’s support for the delivery of public services and initiatives that will be available. This article provides a useful summary of the white paper, with a particular focus on the support it announces for mutuals and alternative delivery options.

Mutuals Information Service – In November 2010, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, announced that Local Partnerships, Co-operatives UK and the Employee Ownership Association had come together in partnership to provide a signposting service for staff in the public sector interested in setting up a social or mutual enterprise. This is the Mutuals Information Service (MIS). MIS can be contacted by emailing mutuals@local.gov.uk or by telephone on 020 7187 7377 (if you want to talk in confidence, they recommend telephoning).

Mutual Support Programme – This will be a £10million programme to “support for some of the most promising and innovative mutuals in order that they reach the point of investment readiness”, according to the Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd. At the time of writing there are no further details on the Mutual Support Programme, and it is unclear whether this will be a fund that people can apply to or whether the funding will be used to support initiatives such as the Mutual Information Service.

Investment and Contract Readiness Fund – Again this is a £10million fund, which was announced in July 2011. The fund will be open to applications from April 2012 and aims to help civil society organisations “to develop the right skills, the right systems and the right attitude so that they are ready for investment, and in a stronger position to win public sector contracts.”

Right to Provide – The Government is set to roll out new ‘Rights to Provide’ across public services so that employers will be expected to accept suitable proposals from front line staff who want to take over and run their services as mutual organisations. This will enable public sector workers to form independent, or joint venture based mutual and co-operative social enterprises. This was announced by Francis Maude in November 2010 and referred to in the Open Public Services white paper. The Right to Provide is currently available to NHS employees, who have to express their interest to their Board by the end of the year. It is unclear how the Right to Provide will work for council services, keep an eye on this toolkit for news.

Mutuals Task Force – Professor Julian Le Grand, one of the UK’s leading thinkers on public service reform, has been appointed to lead a Task Force to push employee ownership across the public sector. The task force was established in February 2011 but as yet has not announced any findings.

Mutual pathfindersthe first wave of employee-led mutual pathfinders was launched in August 2010 with a second wave announced in February 2011. These pathfinders are being mentored by expert organisations as well as leading figures in social enterprise and public service to support their growth and share best practice. The pathfinders will provide learning that can be applied to other public service spin-outs. The Lambeth Resource Centre, one of the cooperative council early adopters, is also a mutual pathfinder.

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