Headlines: May 17th, 2011

Public service reform and the Big Society are relying on mutuals to deliver services. The launch of a one stop shop for advice and help will boost growth.

The Co-operative Group, the UK’s biggest mutual organisation, has launched a one stop shop to give a full range of practical assistance and advice on mutuals from the early stages of thinking through appraisal and implementation to the first full year of trading.

Public service employees and others are being encouraged to form mutuals to deliver services to fulfil the Government’s aim of creating innovative alternatives to public service delivery and promoting the Big Society.

Mutual organisations do not have external shareholders and they are controlled by their members. Members may be users of the mutual, employees, other stakeholders or a combination of these. Mutual organisations are either owned by and run in the interests of existing members, as is the case in building societies, cooperatives and friendly societies, or – as in many public services – owned on behalf of the wider community.

Mutuals in the pipeline include NHS staff wanting to launch an employee-owned social enterprise to help homeless patients, employees from local authorities getting together to form a mutual to deliver children’s services, and further education colleges coming together to see if they can set up a new awarding body.

Mutuals are likely to play an increasing role in public service reform and development of the Big Society following the u-turn on involvement of the private sector which was expected to be given a level playing field to bid for services. It was announced earlier this month that it would be unacceptable for private companies to profit from the taxpayer. The public service reform White Paper has been delayed since March.

Peter Marks, Group Chief Executive at The Co-operative Group said: “We have heard a great deal from all the mainstream political parties about the co-operative model delivering public sector services but up until now we’ve lacked a one-stop shop where people can get the advice and assistance necessary to turn great ideas into practical solutions. Public Service Mutuals fills that gap.”