As a Councillor I have to confess I am more than a little bit sceptical about the pledge announced today to extend mutualisation of public services: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/mar/31/labour-election-mutualisation-pledge
I'm a mutualist as I'm in the Co-Op Party as well as Labour, but I'm also proud to be municipalist (a supporter of the maximum self-government of local areas, through councils running public services in the interests of local people) in the tradition of Hackney's former Mayor Herbert Morrison(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Morrison).
I'd always seen mutuals and co-ops as an alternative to capitalist forms of ownership, not as a way of councils off-loading their responsibility to deliver public services onto the service users. Surely the whole point about council services is that they are already mutual in that the policies that govern them and the political direction of them is set by the people in an area - the service users -electing some of their fellow residents - also service users - as councillors? Our focus for promoting mutuals should be on taking businesses out of the capitalist sector and into mutual ownership, not on taking services out of the public democratically-controlled sector.
Where there is genuine demand for a mutual solution to delivering services I'm all for it - a successful TMO (Tenant Management Organisation) runs one of the housing estates in my ward.
- not every group of service users has the time, capacity, skills or desire to run the service. This is particularly the case in more deprived areas where people are under enough pressure running their own lives let alone running local public services. And on one level why should they? Most people quite rightly want to spend their time on their work and their family and leisure - they don't all want to get hands-on in running local schools or parks or libraries, they want someone to do it for them and the ability to kick them out of doing it if they screw up.
- inevitably the group of users that would get most involved in running a service tends not to be representative of all users and is usually the people with the biggest axe to grind and the most time and energy - quite likely to be more middle class than the average service user.
- in some cases user groups would advocate policies for the service that would conflict with the wider democratically arrived at policies of the local authority as a whole.
I hope that in pushing this Labour colleagues will not use it as an excuse to pass the buck on difficult spending decisions to service users, and will not forget that the bottom-line responsibility for delivering good public services needs to sit with the councillors who have been elected by the entire local electorate to do that job.