The view from:
Secretary General and chief executive of Co-operatives UK, the sector’s representative body
Will co-operatives be a force for the delivery of public services?
There is a growing consensus that the co-operative and mutual models will be fundamental to the delivery of public services within a short period of time. There are two sides to that. One is building cultures of co-operation which see public services as a partnership between professionals and users or citizens, particularly where there are long-term relations like care, long-term health conditions and housing. Second is the use of co-operative and mutual organisations as a way of delivering public services.
What are the benefits of using co-operatives to deliver public services?
The evidence suggests that employee retention and motivation is higher in organisational models in which they have an ownership stake. The evidence is also that public services deliver better to citizens where staff are engaged and confident. Conversely, the factor that underpins staff engagement is when the service delivers for users. There is a value chain here where more empowered staff can lead to better services for users.
Are there risks?
We have a very good experience to date of co-operative models in public services, but also lessons of what not to do. Above all, co-operatives need a degree of independence and can’t be imposed by a top down route. Co-operatives and mutuals need to be part of a wider system of change in relation to public services and to be seen as part of a patient programme for service transformation.
Are you happy with the political focus on co-operatives and mutuals?
We are delighted that there is such a recognition of co-operative models. In many ways it feels counter-cultural: we live in an era of John Wayne style heroic leadership and co-operative models are the opposite. They are about humble, modest, practical participation. They are about running successful businesses. The interest from political parties stems from the interest from the public: the public understand that co-operatives can be entrusted to run public services.
£28.9 billion – turnover of co-operative enterprises in the UK
4,820 – co-operatives in the UK
11.3 million – members
205,800 – employees