The news that the Conservative Party intend to facilitate greater employee ownership in public services is one of the boldest policy announcements of David Cameron’s leadership. Labour has already thrown scorn on what appears to be political cross-dressing, and the left–leaning twitterati have pored over the proposal for inconsistency and policy naivete. But what evidence is there out there on the viability of such schemes, and how likely is it that the Tories could deliver this successfully?
I authored a Demos pamphlet on alternative ownership models last year, and while I’m more concerned with ownership pathologies in the private sector, the report looks at the potential and precedents for employee ownership in the public sector too. Here are three sets of questions thrown up by this morning’s announcement:
Growth areas. The first question must be which areas of public services might such a model be appropriate for. The main precedents are in health and care, with Central Surrey Health and Sunderland Home Care the best known examples. Foundation trust hospitals are themselves mutuals, though (like building societies) technically owned by their “users”, which means their local communities. This report makes useful reading on the growth potential in the health sector.