News and Comment

Sustainability for public service mutuals – what does it take?

Monday 9 December 2013


I’ve had an interesting few weeks talking to leaders of public service mutuals at the EOA Conference, working with commissioners of mutuals and talking to a couple of spin-outs about their experiences of the transition process.

Many of these conversations focused on sustaining success after spin out and three factors emerge for me – factors that I think everyone would acknowledge are important but which may not always happen in practice.

Firstly, leadership teams need the opportunity to stand back and reflect on how to achieve the business development that is neatly set out in their initial five year plan. Operational delivery and embedding changes could easily fill up the top team agenda for years at a time, but successful mutuals start as they mean to go on. They regularly take time out to think about strategic plans and to understand what they, as leaders, need to do to be fit for the future. But this is often a big cultural change for an established and successful management team.

Secondly, there is a risk that staff engagement peaks too early.  During the options appraisal stage of spin out processes there is often a lot of attention paid to seeking staff views and engaging them in the mutual ownership model. But then they find that the actual transition process can be rather long and procedural and there is a risk that staff enthusiasm begins to wane. So there needs to be early attention to empowering staff as owners and to develop innovations and efficiencies that can be embedded into the workings of the new mutual.

Finally, spin outs need to consciously take a long term view for building new relationships with commissioners. This relationship will change over the transition and during the initial contract period, and it takes two to do this new tango. At the recent pilot of the Cabinet Office Commissioning Academy model there was lively interest in the different ways that commissioners can support sustainability. At OPM, we are taking this thinking forward and will be adding them to the future modules. We welcome new contributions and if you would like to take part in the next Commissioning Academy mutual module, please get in touch.

The next planned dates for the Commissioning Academy mutual module are Thursday 19 December 2013, Wednesday 15 January and Thursday 27 February. To book a free place, or for more information, please contact Memona Ahmed at OPM on