The most appealing element of the government’s plan to encourage civil servants to set up mutuals is the opportunity to focus on public rather than institutional interests, the survey discovered. It also found that clear majority of those rejecting the agenda do so because they believe that public sector status best protects their organisation’s greatest strengths.
The online survey, which was completed by 1,395 civil servants, asked: “Would you be interested in exploring the idea of your organisation or team becoming a ‘mutual’, and leaving the civil service to become a social enterprise or business?” The 16 per cent who said yes were asked to name the three greatest attractions of mutualisation.
The biggest attraction of mutualisation is “the opportunity to focus on public benefit rather than institutional interests,” named by 55 per cent of interested civil servants. Some 54 per cent chose “greater operational freedom,” while 46 per cent named “the opportunity to reap financial rewards if the business is successful.”
Of those who said they have no interest in mutualisation, 56 per cent named as one of the biggest three deterrents to their considering the idea the “belief that the public sector is the best place in which to protect the best elements of your current organisation or team’s ethos, culture and attitudes.” The second most popular option was “concern about the prospect of losing your public sector pensions, terms & conditions,” chosen by 41 per cent, while 36 per cent highlighted “concern that a mutual might be taken over by a private business, or that a private partner might become too powerful.”
The survey reveals that the supporters and opponents of mutualisation see similar potential benefits in the agenda, but express very different concerns about it.
It also shows that the Ministry of Justice is the most enthusiastic department, with a quarter of MoJ civil servants interested in mutualisation.
Ed Welsh, executive director of commercial models in the Cabinet Office, told CSW that he’s “quite encouraged” by the figures. “It’s a relatively new programme, [and] it’s not a programme that will suit every part of government,” he said. “We assess that there’s maybe 15 to 20 per cent of government that’s suitable to be mutualised.”
However, Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS trade union, said that the figures “blow a hole right through the government’s claims that civil servants are champing at the bit and [the agenda is] employee-led.”
See the full special report, Editorial