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:
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.