Mutuals and cooperatives

In some cases, rather than public services continuing to be delivered by the council there may be opportunities for new or existing organisations which are owned by users, local residents or employees to take over the service. These are sometimes referred to as “spin outs” and are often mutual organisations.

A mutual is an organisation that is a business that is owned and controlled by its members. These members can be:

  • service users, clients or customers
  • local community
  • employees
  • a combination of any of these groups.

Mutuals have democratic voting systems where each member gets a vote. They can use this vote to elect directors and have their say in how the organisation is run. This gives members a role in setting the strategic vision and direction of the organisation.

There are a number of benefits to having mutuals designing and delivering public services. These include:

  • giving members a sense of ownership and accountability for the service, putting the control in their hands;
  • developing a partnership between professionals, service users and the community to design and deliver the service, which is more likely to reflect local needs and professional good practice;
  • removing the service from the bureaucracy involved in being part of a large public sector body;
  • creating community involvement and resilience – by coming together to work on one service, communities might be encouraged to get involved and take responsibility for other services.
  • delivering wider community benefits.

There are many examples of successful mutual organisations. The most frequently mentioned are The Co-operative, John Lewis and building societies such as Nationwide. But there are also more local examples including Greenwich Leisure Limited who operate Lambeth’s leisure centres and many housing associations such as Hyde Southbank Homes .


Cooperatives are mutual organisations that accept and adhere to the seven “principles of cooperation”. In this country, Cooperatives UK are the trade association representing for co-operatives. Their website has a lot of useful information about what a cooperative is, the advantages of cooperation, and advice on how to set up a cooperative.

Establishing new mutuals in Lambeth

Several Lambeth Council services are currently looking at how they can become mutual organisations – Lambeth Resource Centre, adventure playgrounds, youth centres, One O’Clock clubs, and the Young and Safe programme. As they go through the process of becoming an alternative delivery organisation, with users and the local community taking a greater role in owning the service, they will be sharing their learning with us through the toolkit.

If you are thinking about whether a mutual could be a good way of delivering public services, we have more information on the process that you would need to go through and the support that is available.

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