I shouldn't be surprised, but my earlier post about the Tories attitude to the idea of 'co-production' has rapidly been rendered moot by the whizzo scheme from David Cameron to turn parts of local government into so-called cooperatives.
It's a pretty confused proposal as evidenced by these two quotes, the first from Cameron, the second from George Osbourne:
I know that there are millions of public sector workers, that work in our public services. and who frankly today feel demoralised, feel disrespected, feel a lack of recognition. We will not only get rid of those targets and that bureaucracy that drives you so mad, we will give you the power in a way that is as radical as the right to buy your council home.
"The check on quality here is that they would be contracting services to the local authority or the National Health Service and they would be providing a contract, for community nursing or for primary education.
"And we would be making sure, as taxpayers, that we were getting value for money and it was appropriately run and the standards the kids were being taught to were at the right level and the like."
Standards such as the national curriculum would remain, he said.
From the Party statement comes this confused gem:
The new right to form employee owned co-operatives will apply throughout the vast majority of the public sector – including JobCentre Plus offices, community nursing teams and primary schools. Employee owned co-operatives will continue to be funded by the state so long as they meet national standards, but will be freed from centralised bureaucracy and political micromanagement. They will be not-for-profit organisations - any financial surpluses will be reinvested into the service and the staff who work there, rather than distributed to external shareholders.
Setting aside the suspicion from trades unions
Gail Cartmail, assistant general secretary for the public sector [in Unite], said the Tory leader was "using the language of socialism to mask a break-up of public services" and "mangling the English language to advance his anti-state ideology".
which to be honest doesn't suggest that Unite has any more understanding of cooperatives than the Tory party, Cameron and Osbourne appear to be talking about very different animals. These co-ops will only be able to be offer contracts for services. They will not control the assets.
While staff will fully own their new organisation, they will not be able to sell off any of the state’s assets they continue to use, like land and buildings. And because we expect them to make big efficiencies and improvements to services, their contracts will ensure any big surpluses they make will be shared with the taxpayer.
This will be Thatcherite privatisation with a smily face. The minute some party apparatchik decides a particular coop is getting a bit too radical, the contract will be handed over to Capita. Remember, when the Thatcher government forced councils to put services like refuse collection out to tender, all they did was change the monopoly provider.
After their contract period, the co-operative enterprises will need to bid to renew the contract, so would be open to competitive pressure, like any other social enterprise working for government. While this will mean that good performance will be rewarded, the Government would not bail out enterprises if they fail. Like any contract that an enterprise enters into, the management and staff have to be responsible for any poor performance, not the taxpayer.
A south London council has unveiled plans to become a "co-operative" - where residents who help run services would get council tax rebates.
Lambeth Council hopes the scheme, based on the business model of the John Lewis Partnership, will save it about £30m.
Under the proposals, residents could vote to turn services, such as primary schools, into citizen-led groups. ___________________________________________________________________________
But the Lambeth Conservative group described the proposals as a "gimmick" and did not think they would happen. _________________________________________________________________
Lambeth Council, which is Labour run, will put the plans out for consultation next month with the aim of introducing the mutual approach in August.
The plans would also see tenants offered greater control of housing estates by being given the powers to reorganise them as co-operatives.
I haven't been able to find any hard details on the Lambeth web-site to see if their proposals are any more likely to be about real local control than the Tories, but it seems likely that someone at Lambeth has been looking at the experiences of Porto Alegre in Brazil.
Should be interesting times ahead, because I suspect that if they really mean it, the Lambeth proposals will be as likely to cause shudders amongst the diehards in both Labour and Tory parties.
Ed Balls for example, responding to the Cameron proposal:
"The issue is not whether or not you put workers in charge. We are doing that - with parents and patients too," he said.
"The issue is whether you will fund those public services. We will and the Conservatives are not not matching those guarantees."
Another perspective comes from Chris Dillow
Let’s say the school’s results are measured by the proportion of children achieving level 4 in KS2 tests.
Teachers can increase this proportion in several nefarious ways; intensive coaching just before the test; narrowing the curriculum to the bear minimum; and concentrating their effort upon pupils on the margin of levels 3 and 4, and ignoring both the brighter and less able pupils.
Now, if teachers don’t have incentives to “provide better services”, some might not bother with these games. They might figure: “It’s no skin off my nose if the school misses this silly target. I’ll do proper teaching instead.”
If, however, the school becomes a co-op, the teacher’s reasoning changes, at the margin. Her pay now becomes dependent upon gaming the system. Worse still, because her colleagues’ pay also depends on it, she faces peer pressure to play the game. The result could be that co-ops actually displace knightly motives and encourage knavish ones. Results might improve. But teaching won’t.
EDIT: In the light of Colin Ward's death this passage by him seems particularly appropriate to the above post.
When we compare the Victorian antecedents of our public institutions with the organs of working-class mutual aid in the same period the very names speak volumes. On the one side the Workhouse, the Poor Law Infirmary, the National Society for the Education of the Poor in Accordance with the Principles of the Established Church; and, on the other, the Friendly Society, the Sick Club, the Cooperative Society, the Trade Union. One represents the tradition of fraternal and autonomous association springing up from below, the other that of authoritarian institutions directed from above.