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Government appoints arch-Blairite to push ‘big society’ initiative
Mutualisation of public services is at the heart of the government’s ‘big society’ mantra, such as a scheme at Stockport college. Photograph: Don McPhee for the Guardian
The coalition government has appointed the arch-Blairite moderniser Julian Le Grand to head a taskforce promoting the mutualisation of public services – a key plank of its “big society” plans.
Le Grand, who worked in No 10′s policy unit under Blair between 2003 and 2005, is credited with introducing Labour’s quasi-market reforms and devising its “baby bond” child trust funds.
He will head the new group, which is backed by David Cameron, to drive reform at the centre of government and support mutuals around the country.
Francis Maude, the cabinet office minister, announced the appointment today, alongside eight so-called pathfinder projects. These include an employee takeover of the London borough of Havering’s youth and library services, lecturers running Stockport further education college, and the creation of a therapy unit by nurses from Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre hospitals NHS foundation trust.
Mutuals, in which frontline staff can take over and run their services, “exemplify” the government’s big society, Maude said. “When you take power away from bureaucrats and give it to people on the ground, they often come up with better, more efficient ways of doing things. This is the essence of the big society agenda.
“Public sector professionals have been held back by the limitations of top-down control; their commitment to serving people has been ignored in favour of targets and regimented structures.”
Maude announced the new scheme on a visit to a new unit offering combined adult health and social care services in Swindon, Wiltshire, a mutual set up by nurses, physiotherapists and doctors. It is being supported by John Lewis, the most famous high street mutual.
Maude told the Guardian there was now broad support for mutualising public services. “The old idea that there’s an ideological way of providing public services, that it all has to be done by monolithic public sector providers, or it’s totally outsourced, is gone. There’s a much wider consensus around mutuals.
“In coalition, you have commitment; in big parts of the Labour party there is support for this approach as well, though it never gathered much momentum in the Blair years. I’m delighted we’re able to give it a real push,” he said.
Le Grand will chair the taskforce, which will include representatives from John Lewis, Co-ops UK and the Employee Ownership Association.
He said: “I have long advocated the development of employee-owned mutuals and professional partnerships as a way of improving public services, and am delighted to be part of the process of driving these exciting ideas further across Whitehall and beyond.”
Tessa Jowell, Labour’s shadow cabinet office minister, said the government’s understanding of mutuals was “shallow”.
She said: “Public sector mutualism is not just a matter of giving workers power, but all of us, as parents, patients, students and service users. Throughout the country, mutual organisations are already running hospitals and schools, delivering social care and giving residents real power over the communities that they live in. It’s hard to see how the proposals announced today will make any meaningful contribution to this activity.”
Sources : Guardian-Health