Press release

Big Society plans for better public services

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Employers will be expected to accept suitable proposals from front-line staff who want to take over and run services as mutual organisations.

The government is to introduce new ‘Rights to Provide’ across public services, where employers will be expected to accept suitable proposals from front-line staff who want to take over and run their services as mutual organisations.

Prisons, Sure Start Children’s Centres, hospitals and the Civil Service are just some of the services where professionals could have more freedom to run their services the way they want to.

Speaking at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude unveiled new support for public service ‘spin-outs’ building on the Government’s Pathfinder programme. Including:

  • over £10million to help the best fledgling mutuals reach investment readiness
  • a new information line and web service for interested staff, provided by Local Partnerships, the Employee Ownership Association and Co-ops UK; and
  • a ‘challenge group’ involving employee-ownership experts including, John Lewis Partnerships, to investigate ways to improve regulation.

Mr Maude also announced a new member of the Government’s Pathfinder programme. Circle Healthcare - an employee-owned social enterprise and Europe’s largest partnership of clinicians - will join the programme, giving 900 NHS staff on secondment the chance to become co-owners of Circle without losing their NHS employment rights.

Every government department will put in place a far reaching right for public sector workers to take over the running of their services. However, services in areas such as defence and security may be exempt. The new right will only apply if appropriate guarantees are met, mutual proposals will be expected to deliver savings to the taxpayer maintain or improve the quality of services. Where public procurement processes allow and savings are properly agreed, staff forming a mutual proposal will be awarded a contract to continue providing services rather than going through the full tender process. 

Mr Maude said that devolving power to people on the front line who know how things can be done better is all part of the Big Society approach and that it would put power at a local level, so public services would be answerable to the people that used them.

He added:

When staff are given a stake in shaping services productivity and efficiency has been shown to improve dramatically. We must not be afraid to take bold decisions that will help create better public services at a time when there is less money to go round.

I’d like to thank the John Lewis Partnerships, the Employee Ownership Association, Co-ops UK, Local Partnerships and all the supporters of our mutual Pathfinder programme for the energy and vision they are brining to this exciting policy. I believe that in a decade’s time employee-owned mutuals will be one of the major types of organisation providing excellent public services.

Employee Ownership Association director Patrick Burns said:

Giving public sector workers the right to take a meaningful ownership stake in the services they provide is a welcome opportunity to bring significant benefits to frontline staff and services users alike, from enhanced productivity to increased innovation. To help ensure transition to a mutual approach is successful, it is vital that staff are properly supported throughout. We strongly urge employees thinking of taking up this right to use the new mutuals hotline and advice service launched today.