Saturday, 11 June 2011

If we want more workers' control of public services.....

As readers know I was very keen to establish a workers' coop to take over the nursery business at Botanic Gardens. It had become clear that this activity had been allow to drift into an unsustainable economic position and that significant restructuring was required. I thought that the skills of the staff and the respect that they had in the community was an excellent basis to set up a business that would be self sufficient selling high quality products to the public as well as to the council. Sadly the employees could not be persuaded to take over the enterprise. I have learn some hard lessons from that experience.  In many ways they are similar to the conclusions of the all party group on Employee Ownership that has just publish a report (downloadable here) namely that the support that is needed for such a transition is simply not available in the form needed.

There is a very good summary by the Policy Director of the Employee Ownership Association (EOA)here in part she says:

Well, the findings were mixed. Most strikingly, there is a real lack of understanding within local and central government as to what ‘mutuals’ are and how the model could work. The inquiry found that employees and organisations didn’t know how to access support and advice and sometimes found that attempts to explore ‘spinning out’ were thwarted by senior management.

Now I wish mutuals who have taken over public sector work every success but if this policy is to work then there need to be some hard edged support. If such enterprises find themselves competing with private sector business owned by those with deep pockets they could soon fail. 

I while back I posted on the need for our party to re-emphasise this strand of our policy. I am particularly keen that we challenge the dominance of the one model of business ownership described by Will Hutton as 
......... the oddest and most regressive constitution for private ownership anywhere in western capitalism . This is a policy for the public services but it is a lot more that that, it is about the mainstream, about the firms that produce the economic wealth that our public services rely on. Company Directors whose only concern is to build shareholder value have presided over enterprises that have served our nation poorly, their employees and their communities have been short changed by them. After that posting Carole Leslie the Policy Director at EOA put a comment on the blog:
The current political drive towards more mutualism in the public sector is to be welcomed, but I feel we do need more input to ensure that it is not derailed. I believe we also need to refocus on employee ownership as a model for business, something that has been rather lost in recent months. Employee owned businesses tend to have happier employees, more satisfied customers, be more profitable, productive and innovative, and have lower absence and higher retention. Employee ownership is good for the individual, the organisation, the community and ultimately the economy. 

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