Why cooperative?

Change is coming to public services in Lambeth. The cooperative council is Lambeth’s big idea for local government.

It’s about giving people more involvement and control of the services they use and the places where they live by putting council resources in their hands.

Over the years, we have seen how cooperation between service providers, such as the council, and those who use or are affected by services, such as residents and communities, has resulted in public services that are more closely aligned with people’s needs and expectations. In Lambeth, there are dozens of example of this approach in action, and this was the inspiration for the cooperative council.

In addition, the aftermath of recession and the deepest cuts in Government funding for a generation, demanded a reform of public services – they simply could not continue to be delivered in the same ways.

The cooperative council shows that this ethos – of meaningful partnership and cooperation – is the foundation on which public services can be run in years to come.

The Cooperative Council – Sharing power: a new settlement between citizens and the state” summarised the main finding from the consultation carried out by the Cooperative Council Commission, and set out a series of projects, called ‘early adopters’ which are designed to put these ideas into action.

The report showed that in order to be fully cooperative, a council needs to:

  • turn citizens from passive recipients into active shapers of services
  • deliver more effective, more responsive services by giving users more control
  • strengthen civil society so it’s better able to deal with challenges
  • do things ‘with’ our communities rather than ‘to’ our communities

There are five principles that have been adopted by Lambeth council which are the basis of this new settlement in Lambeth between citizens and the state.

  1. Partnership with the community – the council as the local democratic leader ensuring that public services continue to meet the needs of all Lambeth’s citizens. Also recognising the wide range of community groups that form Lambeth’s vibrant and strong civil society, providing vital services and a voice for citizens to express their point of view.
  2. Co-production and building on what exists already – public services are planned by staff, users and the community on an equal basis and delivered through a variety of organisations that will improve outcomes, empower citizens and users, and strengthen civil society
  3. Reciprocity – citizens are incentivised to take part in the provision of public services through benefits such as services that better meet local needs, or through financial or non-financial incentives.
  4. Local employment and skills development – by engaging in civil society, residents are able to develop new skills and enhance their employment opportunities
  5. Maximum accessibility and equalities – public services should be accessible from a variety of locations, including electronically, and they should be joined up across organisations. Everyone should have the opportunity to be involved and have their voice heard in the design and delivery of public services.

The ambition to operate more cooperatively in Lambeth speaks to a national debate on the way in which public services should be organised and delivered.  The government has said it wants to scrap top-down central government control and enable staff, users and communities to take control. It is offering front line staff a new “right to provide” services independently of the state through forming and co-owning their own business. This is often referred to as “spinning-out”. In practice it means that public sector employers will be encouraged to consider proposals from staff groups who want to take over the running of their services. Lambeth Council see spin out organizations as being just one of the many options for more cooperative working.

What’s in it for me?

This is an opportunity to think creatively and realistically about local public services, with the prospect of improved, more responsive service delivery as the result.

When the Office for Public Management (OPM) considered the evidence of actual organisations that had moved to increased user and community involvement, in particular through shared ownership, the advantages they found were:

  • Enhanced productivity and cost-effectiveness;
  • Higher levels of reciprocity between staff and service users;
  • Greater customer and staff satisfaction; and
  • Increased creativity and innovation.

Long term success will be public services that maximise the achievement of objectives shared by the local community, plus co-operative ways of working that are viable, sustainable in the long-term and reflect the needs of the local community. The extent to which Lambeth prospers over the next few years will have a lot to do with how well the opportunities in this change are identified and taken advantage of by all of us who live and work in Lambeth.

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