X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.spectator.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

Coffee House

Mutually assured benefits: Francis Maude’s public sector revolution

2 August 2014

9:45 AM

2 August 2014

9:45 AM

A revolution is underway in Bromley. The average time that it takes for a leg ulcer to be treated and healed has been cut from 21 weeks to 5 weeks. The partnership that has achieved this dramatic improvement is one of 100 new public sector mutuals employing 35,000 people across England. These are employee-controlled businesses that have been spun out of the public sector, and which now account for £1.5bn worth of public services.

Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, is possessed by ‘missionary fervour’ for mutuals.  He told Coffee House that they ‘improve morale and boost productivity.’

Productivity is among Maude’s foremost concerns. Public sector productivity, according to the ONS, flattened between 1997 and 2010 — a result of stultifying management and low morale. The Cabinet Office says that after a mutual is spun out, absenteeism and staff turnover fall by 20 per cent 16 per cent on average, and the improvements in Bromley are an indication of what can be achieved when the state entrusts public services to the people who run them.

Why does mutualising make a difference? ‘Ownership is a very powerful thing,’ says Maude. ‘Responsibility and accountability galvanise people.’ He argues that freedom from bureaucracy, coupled with greater collective responsibility among workers, have encouraged frontline staff to innovate. ‘Free to do things — that’s what [mutualised workers] say [to me],’ he says. ‘Ownership is an emotional and psychological change.’

[Alt-Text]


Maude illustrates his point by recalling a recent visit to a healthcare partnership: ‘All of them, even though they are committed health professionals, they talk about “when we used to work in the NHS”.’ It’s a subtle but important change of mind-set.

Maude says that mutualisation is a form of privatisation. A contract for mutualisation contains conditions about efficiencies and productivity. Each one is different because mutuals reject the mantra that ‘one size fits all’. Yet the principle is consistent.

But, is the principle popular? Critics ask why there are only 100 mutuals. One former management consultant, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Coffee House about the problems encountered when mutuals were spun-out of local government:

We found they only really worked if the local authority continued to provide financial and capacity support and occasionally assets, which defeats the object. The nature of most public sector workers is a desire for stability, limited risk, and work/life balance; so their desire to do what’s required to make a mutual work is fairly limited, given that it doesn’t really increase your earnings. We found the drive was always from the top, and staff appetite was low, which isn’t really how it should work.’

Maude counters these observations by pointing out that the government, be it local or national, supports the would-be mutual through the ‘spinning-out phase’. This assistance comes in various forms: legal, accounting, business strategy, management and so on, all of which is geared towards the aim of boosting efficiency and productivity in line with the contractual obligations. The Cabinet Office has spent £6m of a £10m fund designed to provide those services. Local authorities and the parent public services also help. Maude emphasises that no public sector mutual has yet failed, although he is quick to concede that ‘eventually one will’. The message, though, is: so far, so good.

The next challenge is to mutualise larger public services. There are encouraging signs. A fire brigade has expressed an interest. The idea is that the fire stations would mutualise to provide the local authority with a service under contract. It is thought that this structure would provide greater operational flexibility, thereby improving the quality of the service while offering greater value for money.

Maude knows that there will be difficulties and disappointments. As he put it at an event last week: ‘We know this is just the beginning of a massive transformation.’ Nevertheless, his conviction is unshakeable.

Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.


Show comments
Close