Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Ed Miliband and Steve Reed launch "Towards Cooperative Councils" with a contribution from Allison Ogden-Newton

Allison Ogden-Newton
Allison is the chair of the Transition Institute

The architecture of public services in the UK is in transition. Across the National Health Service, local authorities, neighbourhood schools and libraries, our public service institutions are being remodelled. 

The Transition Institute’s mission is to support a growing network of people involved in this remodelling and support them to do so in a way that transforms public services for the better

It is commonly understood that there are two main drivers of these changes in our public services. The long-term challenge is the changing nature of our society, which are also changing the demands placed upon the state. Local and central government will ultimately be judged on how they respond to issues such as an ageing society and climate change, or persistent challenges like poverty, reoffending or families in crisis.

The long-term tests of our public services such as those described above are also being amplified by the second pressure: the wider economic climate we face in the short and medium term, and the subsequent downward pressures on budgets.

Although these twin drivers can seem far removed from the day-to-day delivery of a residential care service, the running of a local library or after-school clubs, their impact is reverberating throughout the public sector, across every service and local area in the UK.

There is, however, another emerging test facing public services that has also come out of these headline challenges, namely the rise of social value as a concept. If you are a practitioner leading, managing or delivering public services, the chances are you may not have heard of the term social value. There is a distinct possibility, however, that it will come to impact profoundly on your day-to-day work. 
Parliament has recently enacted legislation to enshrine social value in our public services for generations to come. The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2013 requires:
“public authorities to have regard to economic, social and environmental well-being in connection with public services contracts”

Furthermore, the European Union is also supporting the premise of social value in public services. A European Parliament resolution declared that the “lowest price” criterion should no longer be the determining factor in awarding public contracts. Instead, the resolution suggests contracts should be awarded to the “most advantageous tender in terms of economic, social and environmental benefits, taking into account the entire life-cycle costs of the good, service or work.”

These changes will have a profound impact on the commissioning and procurement of public services in the decades ahead. It will
shift the focus from the bottom-line price or cost of a service towards the overall value of the outcomes delivered, which will include the value of the process of achieving the desired outcomes. In other words, the awarding of public service contracts will no longer simply focus on whether you deliver the required results, but will also take into account how you get there 
As a result, the approach, social impact and ethos of an organisation will become crucial aspects of public service commissioning and procurement.

Within the public sector there has, of course, always been an almost tangible public service ethos. It is the reason that the vast majority of public sector workers get out of bed in the morning – the knowledge that they are not only doing a good job but that they are also making their country, their communities and their neighbourhoods happier, more prosperous and more sociable places.

Our contention is that, properly managed, social enterprise spin-outs from the public sector can accentuate the social value that is created. Within organisations that have or are in the process of spinning out of the public sector, there is an inescapable sense that you are with a group of people who feel liberated and enthused in what they are doing. It is the public service ethos and then some.
This is undeniably in part due to a sense of empowerment and control that can come along with new governance and ownership structures. 

We have started to outline the essential characteristics upon which a social value ethos is based within these emerging models of public service spin-outs.

  • LEADERSHIP: It is essential that a leader steps forward to drive the organisation forward through transition, providing a sense of direction and clear focus for the staff and supporters. This is the single most significant contributor to success.
  • VISION An end point to the transition needs to be persuasively articulated. How will it feel different to the status quo and why is change crucial?
  • COMMUNICATION and EMPOWERMENT Clear, compelling communication will ensure staff and supporters buy-in to the transition and take control of ensuring an effective change process. As part of this, everyone needs to understand that they will be fairly compensated for the effort they put in.
  • MOBILISE COMMITMENT Enthusing staff, users and gaining political support will ensure that the journey to independence is as smooth as possible and pushed on by linchpin stakeholders.
    IMPLEMENTATION PLAN A robust implementation plan will provide staff and supporters with stability, comfort and clarity about the journey ahead and their role in making it happen.
    MONITORING Regular checks on progress alongside an open and honest analysis of progress will ensure that the transition is kept on track and allow an assessment of emerging social impact and value.
    INSTITUTIONALISE CHANGE SYSTEMS AND STRUCTURES Embedding purpose and social value into the organisation requires reinforcement through appropriate policies and procedures.

    To reach the end goal of creating a spin-out with a social value ethos woven into its fabric, practitioners have used the elements described above to get there, taking staff, users and supporters with them as they create the organisations which will deliver exceptional services for local communities across the UK. There are many different ways of doing this. Key players in the Transition Institute are those that share the view that social value can be optimised in public service through such means as employee ownership, social entrepreneurialism and mutualism.

    What those involved in the process repeatedly say is that they are frustrated by the lack of specialist support, and although there are specialist providers available they come at a price. Yet at the time that the advice is needed the most - at the start-up stage - there is no budget from the new organisation to pay for it. There must be a role for government here. Tony Blair’s enthusiasm for independent service delivery stemmed from his belief that it could improve standards of management and he was prepared to fund programmes like the Social Enterprise Investment Fund in order to do something about it. For David Cameron it is all about community engagement and making a more meaningful connection between service providers and consumers. I wonder what we could achieve if that second vision was underpinned by the kind of investment that systemic change received from the last government.

    My piece lifted from Towards Co-operative Councils: Empowering people to change their lives Edited by Steve Reed MP and Kitty Usher published this weeko-operative councils: empowering people to change their lives
    Edited by Steve Reed MP and Kitty Ussher 


  1. If co-operative councils are going to let their citizens take control of their services then there will be no greater litmus test for this than in Lambeth, where Steve Reed (when he was leader) presided over the start of legal action against housing co-operatives of 40 years standing, threatening their members with eviction and starting a purge against people who had maintained properties neglected by the council across four decades.

    Residents were promised permanency on several occasions, but the council pulled out of these deals. Now these residents, despite being under attack and watching their neighbours moved away from their communities, have put a new deal on the table – a ‘Super Co-op’ that would be an umbrella co-op for the remaining co-op houses across the borough and also act to recycle empty homes. This deal, supported by housing experts, co-op organisations and the local MP, Kate Hoey, is now on the table for Lambeth to engage with.

    So, rather than than funding reserves through evictions and spending money on lawyers, vacant property managers, contractors and auctioneers, Lambeth can choose to do something that is very much in the spirit of this co-operative council initiative.

    Let’s hope that Lambeth will heed the words of three of its own co-op council commissioners, who, in correspondence with co-op residents said:

    “I do certainly sympathise with your position” says one, “and view that it would be in the spirit of the 2011 Housing commission report, for Lambeth to work with you more collaboratively.”

    Here’s another commissioner:

    “I think it is important that they understand how to deal with legitimate challenges such as the ones you have raised. If they do not understand how to do this, there will be no hope for the development of a Cooperative Council.”

    And finally one more Co-op Commissioner who simply said:

    “Next time I see Steve [Reed], I am going to encourage him to get a grip on matters before the project loses its credibility.”

    Stop press: Lambeth Council recently manipulated the agenda of a meeting so that it could avoid talking about the Super Co-op, doing so despite the presence of two housing co-op professionals who had accompanied residents to discuss the idea.

    Please help lobby Lambeth to make them see sense!

  2. Thus, rather than than money stocks by means of evictions as well as purchasing law firms, vacant property professionals, installers and auctioneers, Lambeth can decide to do something that is quite definitely in the character with this co-operative local authority or council motivation.

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