UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Co-op good with food. Bad for public services

The co-operative ideals of mutualism and fairness allowing affordable food, local distribution and the payment of a dividend (the famous co-op ‘divvy’) have long been held in warm regard by the left across the UK and indeed in Europe. But perhaps it is time for the left and the Blairite caucus (aka David Miliband's resurgent acolytes) to take off their rose tinted glasses and look at this latest development from Co-ops UK: http://www.egovmonitor.com/node/41983

Without any acknowledgement of the values and commitments of truly publically owned and accountable public services Co-operatives UK have disgracefully jumped on the capitalist bandwagon to not only advocate, but actively support, the privatisation of public services.

Co-ops UK have been aided and abetted by the left including people like Jon Cruddas who have been seduced by the concept that somehow public services need to change, that new forms of delivery are a necessity and that co-ops and mutuals hold the answer:

The question we should be asking is on what evidence? Cruddas recently argued in Inside Housing magazine that ‘Community gateway associations owning and managing social rented and intermediate tenure homes are another interesting potential way forward, which perhaps could move into the development of desperately needed new affordable homes.’

Why Jon? Why should social housing being moved out of the ownership of the full community, being hived off to a group of self selected owner/managers be any means of addressing public housing shortages? This is asset stripping the already poor supply of public housing.

Does it make it any better to suggest that the asset stripping is done by a Co-op Board accountable only to the cooptee members? Is that not just a left comfort blanket to excuse the identical outcomes that we’ve already evidenced by the way in which the private registered social landlords have asset stripped the housing sector, leaving councils to pick up the pieces of the ever-growing band of homeless families?

Co-operatives and mutuals are not owned and most certainty can’t be controlled by the public in whose names they would purportedly run public services. I can vote my Councillor off the council if he or she does something I don’t like or fails to deliver public services but how do I exercise any form of democratic accountability over a self selected co-optee? Why should self appointed groups being given public assets?

A first step in getting some sense into this nonsense would be for UNISON’s APF to make its voice loud and clear to any Labour Co-op MPs that we do not support privatization of public services by any route. This is not just about awarding contracts to private providers it is far more serious than that – this is akin to the Thatcherite vision of ‘shareholder nation’ otherwise known as selling off British Gas – divesting the service of any form of public ownership.

At least with a contract or you can still have the option to insource a service but if we allow the transfer of public assets and services on a wholesale basis to coops and mutuals there will be no return to public ownership and democratic accountability within our life time. The consequences for the most vulnerable, the neediest, and the people who rely on public services will be catastrophic. A share in the local divvy will do little to lessen the pain.

Anna Rose