The Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, and the departments for communities, business, and education could have to create arbitration processes to hear grievances related to proposed staff spin-offs, according to the latest recommendations by the independent Mutuals Taskforce.
The Taskforce’s Next Steps report, published on Monday, calls for the five departments to put together a “clear plan and vision” for developing and implementing a mutualisation policy by the end of this year, and for the creation by April of “pathways” guiding staff through the steps towards mutualisation.
At the launch, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude indicated that he is likely to back the target dates, saying he believes they are “appropriate”.
Taskforce chair Julian Le Grand said that while significant progress has been made on the mutuals agenda, “a lack of understanding or sympathy among senior management” is one of many obstacles to be surmounted. The London School of Economics professor said such feedback has been one of the key motivations for giving staff a “clear escalation point”, through which concerns can be raised and redress sought. According to the taskforce, Whitehall departments could play such a role themselves, or independent arbiters could be appointed.
Earlier this month, a CSW survey found that just 16 per cent of 1,395 respondents were interested in exploring the idea of launching a mutual, with 69 per cent voicing a decisive “no”. Ranking high among their concerns was a belief that civil service managers would block any bid.
Maude told CSW that he’s committed to helping remove obstacles to the creation of new mutuals. “This is not about senior civil servants. It’s about frontline staff and the interest they themselves have in doing things differently, and that will grow,” he said.
“The civil servants who say they’re not interested in mutuals themselves should not be able to be a force for inertia and prevent other groups going ahead with this,” he argued. “The closer you get to the frontline of public service, the more interest you’ll find.”
Maude also acknowledged that the early hopes behind the mutuals agenda were probably overblown. “The aspiration of one million public sector workers at some stage being part of a public sector mutual has been raised,” he said. “Is that going to happen by 2015? Probably not.”
The current figure is understood to be in the region of 20,000. According to the Cabinet Office there are now some 58 public sector mutuals – up from nine in 2010 – with a further 40 “in the pipeline”.