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Expert queries UK's fitness to mutualise

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Britain lacks the kind of support structures that are vital to help public-sector staff spin their work out into mutuals and needs to better-resource its plans, according to a new report.

Co-operatives UK has presented research to the Government’s Mutuals Taskforce arguing that the nation has lessons to learn from Spain, Italy, and Sweden if it wants to progress towards a target of 1m public sector staff going it alone by 2015.

Time to Get Serious, International Lessons for Developing Public Service Mutuals highlights Italy as home to “arguably the most extensive and successful programme of mutualisation anywhere in the world” and credits a clearly defined legal structure for social co-operatives for that success.

Favourable tax rules in Spain, and a long-term commitment to advice for those creating mutuals in Sweden were also praised as foundations for success.

Social-enterprise expert and report author Jonathan Bland said that all three nations had seen the growth of public service co-operatives closely linked to enabling legal and fiscal frameworks, with sector-led support structures.

“I am impressed with the government’s vision for public service mutuals, however, the UK is not yet equipped to make it happen,”  he said.

“Understanding of the business models is limited and support is fragmented. To date there has not been investment of sufficient resources.”

He said the Government should create a long-term specialist support service for public-sector staff keen to set up mutuals, including training, business and financial advice.

Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK, said the report should be treated as a reality check for the government.

“The UK policy context does not emerge particularly well from the comparison with other countries,” he said.

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