Wednesday 17 August 2011
Many extravagant claims have been made about the potential benefits that co-operatives and mutuals could bring as service delivery vehicles for the provision of local public services. However, when the evidence is examined in detail do these claims stand the test of scrutiny? This is what the latest research publication by APSE ‘Proof of delivery’ sets out to explore. This research was undertaken through APSE’s knowledge transfer partnership with De Montfort University.
The first key finding was that there is very little evidence base to support any of the claims made about the superiority of co-operatives and mutuals over any other form of service delivery in public services. From 1600 sources our researchers were only able to find 12 case studies where any impact evaluation had been carried out. For a concept that is being pushed so hard as a response to the cuts agenda this is asking decision makers to take a huge leap of faith.
Secondly, from the limited evidence base that exists some key factors appear for successful operation within the public sector, these include:
- Contract lock in – an initial sufficiently long contract in terms of volume of work and financial commitment to allow bedding in of new arrangements and also ensuring the avoidance of future divestment of services that would change the character of the original body.
- Collaboration – the need for on-going support through public subsidy, advocacy and expert advice in order to support the fledgling organisation.
- Buy in – there needs to be buy in from all stakeholders, staff, elected members, citizens and service users.
APSE has argued for a number of years that without on-going support, collaboration and facilitation from the public sector the social economy will struggle to survive, this research reinforces this message.
A third point from the research to emerge is that there appears to be downward pressure on staff terms and conditions brought about by the formation of co-operatives and mutuals. At a time when statutory protection of terms and conditions are being removed from public sector workers by the government this is highly unlikely to generate great enthusiasm for a transfer to this model of provision amongst the key asset of any organisation, the staff.
A final and fundamental point is the fact that very little evidence exists of accountability to elected members and / or the wider community. In a time of diminishing budgets and intensified scrutiny of public spending are local politicians really going to handover public funds to bodies with a self interest without any influence or recourse should things start to go wrong.
APSE would like to see a proper evidence based debate on the role that co-operatives and mutuals can play in public service delivery and would support their use where they can demonstrably add real value. Anything less would do local communities a great disservice.
Friday 12 August 2011
Some of the unsung heroes in the aftermath of the riots of earlier this week were the street cleansing crews who returned city centres to some semblance of normality with maximum efficiency and the minimum of fuss. Whilst senior political figures were quick to praise the public response with brooms and bin bags and cite it as an example of the ‘Big Society’, in reality many were turned away as local authority crews had been out from 5.30am and dealt with much of the clean up by the time the public actually arrived. It’s an example of a public service that goes largely unnoticed until high profile occurrences put it centre stage and yet there would be an outcry if our main streets were left in a mess when the rest of us got up to go to work.
All this as well at a time when Government cuts are having the impact of slashing the budgets of these services. A recent APSE survey of 102 street cleansing managers found that 77% expect their budgets to change this year, with 92% expecting this to be a significant decrease. 64% expect to have recruitment freezes, 53% voluntary redundancies, 34% compulsories and 52% expect a greater community sector involvement.
Personally, I think the public spirit demonstrated this week, whilst laudable, was a one off. I don’t really see that many of us wishing to contribute to the ‘Big Society’ by getting up at 5.30am to cleanse the streets and ensure that they are in pristine condition, on a voluntary basis.
Every now and again a one off event occurs that brings in to focus the immense value of frontline public services which we normally take for granted. It’s a pity that it took something so serious this week to demonstrate the high quality services most people take for granted.