Headlines: August 13th, 2010

Groups of public sector staff are leaving their organisations in health, social services and education, to set up not for profit companies to deliver services in innovative ways. The first wave of Pathfinder mutuals where staff take control of their services, has been announced by Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude.

As part of the Government’s commitment to support the innovation and entrepreneurialism of front line staff, twelve fledgling public service spin-offs have been chosen to be Pathfinders for the mutuals initiative. These pathfinders will be trailblazers for the rest of the public sector – helping Government establish, by learning from the front line, what type of support and structures will best enable the development of employee-led mutuals on an ongoing basis.

Francis Maude said: “Today’s announcement is the first step in creating a genuinely ground-up movement where staff, who are the real experts, can come together to take over and deliver better services. I know that across the country there are literally thousands of front line employees who can see how things can be done better, but at the moment, with the existing constraints, they just can’t get it done. Now this is going to change. The potential for public sector staff to spin out is enormously exciting. The new models will show us how we best support mutuals, tackling problems when they first arise not expensively managing them over many years.”

The Pathfinders have a range of different innovative business models. In Swindon, staff are developing plans to integrate Community Health and Adult Social Services into a cooperative social enterprise. Joining these services together will mean that health and social needs, which are often related, will not be treated in isolation. This model has potential to help services intervene earlier to tackle problems before they get out of control and create significant efficiencies.

Another very different Pathfinder is the 157 Group, a consortium of 28 further education colleges working to set up a qualification awarding body. Setting up as a mutual will give the 157 Group much greater influence, flexibility and control over the way in which qualifications are developed and awarded. It also offers major financial efficiencies.

The pathfinders will be supported by expert mentors from some of the country’s most successful businesses and leaders in employee ownership models. All the mentors have offered their support for free and will work with staff in the Pathfinder projects to help them develop a range of sustainable, efficient and pioneering employee-led services.

The mentors will include staff from companies including the John Lewis Partnership, Tribal, Baxi Partnership, Care and Share Associates, as well as from PWC and KPMG.