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Labour cooperative network looks to shape mutualisation agenda

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A network to support councils looking at mutualising services is to be set up by leading Labour-run authorities, LGC has learned.

The group, which includes Lambeth LBC and Newcastle and Sheffield city councils, will launch the Cooperatives Councils Network to “shape a national agenda for Labour in local government”.

Lambeth leader Steve Reed (Lab), whose own council has pledged to move all its services to cooperative models by 2014, said the group would provide feedback and support to councils looking at similar models.

Cllr Reed said: “We are going to launch the Cooperatives Councils Network in July. Each council will be required to bring at least one major service along cooperative or co-production lines. The rest of the group will provide feedback. We will start to shape a national agenda for Labour in local government.”

Oldham and Rochdale MBCs have also said they will join, according to Cllr Reed. He said he hoped the network would be launched in Rochdale, “because of the Rochdale pioneers who help set up the original cooperative movement”.

Conservative ministers have also pledged support to councils spinning services off into mutuals. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude predicted last year as many as a million public sector workers could transfer to mutuals by 2015.

“By … spinning themselves out of the public sector [they will be able to take] control of their lives and of the services they provide,” Mr Maude said in November.

But Cllr Reed accused ministers of attempting to use the mutual agenda as a tool to cut costs rather than for service improvement.

“There’s a difference between what the government is pushing and our approach. I think worker owned cooperatives are still producer-led. The problem … is lack of involvement of the user, not the lack of involvement of the producer.”

Meanwhile, Brighton & Hove City Council’s fledgling Green administration last week pledged to support radical plans to restructure the council, despite voicing misgivings while in opposition.

New leader Bill Randall (Green) released a joint statement with chief executive John Barradell announcing the Greens would back plans for an  “intelligent commissioning” model to be rolled out.

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