Monday, March 7, 2011

Financial relationships with third sector organisations

The National Audit Office commissioned OPM to research the Government’s financial relationships with third sector organisations. In so doing OPM looked at the existing guidance and the experience of stakeholders in commissioning third sector organisations in provider roles for local authorities and primary care trusts.

The resultant decision support tool seeks to provide practical support for ‘real-life’ decisions about the design of appropriate funding models. It is designed to help ensure programmes are effective, economical and efficient.

It is intended to be used by commissioners at a local level e.g. in local government and local health services but its messages are relevant to all commissioners and will be of interest to TSOs and other stakeholders.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Francis Maude launches new guide to setting up public sector mutuals

Last night we launched a ‘how to guide’ for public sector organisations looking to become employee–led mutuals, written by specialists at OPM, Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP, the Employee Ownership Association and Baxi Partnership.

The guide ‘How to become an employee owned mutual – an action checklist for the public sector’ (available for free download here), provides a road map for public sector organisations. It covers the steps required for organisations considering adopting a mutual ownership model, and shows how employees can give their new enterprise the maximum chance of success.

At the launch at the House of Commons, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude spoke enthusiastically about supporting public sector workers to set up new enterprises and his desire to encourage a wide range of new models. Newly appointed chair of the Prime Minister’s Mutuals Taskforce Professor Julian Le Grand also welcomed the guide and stressed his commitment to helping to remove barriers facing new mutuals.

The guide has already been given a strong thumbs up by public service professionals. Speaking for OPM, colleague Phil Copestake stressed that it is designed to give practical insights to people in public services who are embarking on the transition.

Practical is the keyword here. Leaders of transitions have a demanding role and there are difficult choices along the way, but the process shouldn’t be any more complicated than it needs to be. Many of those attending the launch had either been through the journey or are on the road, and there was a lot of swapping of ideas and experience over cups of tea.

At OPM we’re really keen to continue to hear about new triumphs (and challenges faced, too) as part of our commitment to providing a up-to-date evidence base and supporting further development in policy and practice. So do please get in touch if you have insights to add to the body of knowledge.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Employee-owned mutuals: the most pressing issues

The Social Enterprise Coalition Right to Run event last week was an opportunity for public sector employees to get practical support around creating new social enterprises and mutuals. OPM’s chief executive Hilary Thompson led one of the workshops and writes here about the issues raised by participants.

My workshop focused on the employee ownership model specifically, and attracted a lot of participants with a real thirst for understanding the options and key choices. Attendees were from a range of different public services and were mostly at the stage of finding out more about the potential journey. There was strong interest in:

EOA case studies and OPM’s own research (for example our report Shared ownership in practice, and the case studies of five public service mutuals) provide examples of how different services have achieved a positive transition. But local negotiation is always important, so whenever working with leaders of potential mutuals we encourage them to identify key stakeholders and decision-makers and to open informal discussions with them as early as possible.

In relation to the points in the list above, Government policies are of course critical in shaping the appetite of public service professionals for change. Some specific new policies are emerging – for example on contracting with the public sector and, according to media stories, on transferring public sector pensions – but it’s the overall balance of policies that matters. The imminent public service reform white paper will help to fill in the some of the gaps in the current picture.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mutual support?

The mutual model for organisations delivering public services is getting a lot of publicity, but is there a missing piece to this jigsaw?

Patrick Lewis, partners’ counsellor at John Lewis, and great-nephew of the original John Lewis who founded the best known employee-owned company certainly thinks so. His view is that time, care and commitment are required in setting up this type of organisations – but that support is the key.

We can’t expect public service managers and leaders – usually recruited for very different skills – to suddenly become experts at selling and structuring a new organisational form, marketing services in a competitive market and dealing with different forms of employee engagement and decision-making.

The recent report by the University of Birmingham into bids to set up social enterprises to deliver health services found that people leading initiatives of this sort felt isolated without the necessary support.

That’s not to say that there is no support for setting up mutuals but rather that too much of it is focused on the shape of the organisation and the legal and financial side rather than on the people ‘holding the ring’ who are vital in terms of energy and focus in making things happen. For the mutual sector to further flourish this needs to be addressed.

To help support new models of ownership, we are hosting accelerated learning groups for leaders and managers of organisations interested in or soon to become a social enterprise or mutual organisation.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Commissioning and the Big Society

Big Society has implications for effective commissioning, as budgets and accountability become increasingly devolved to community groups and away from councils and central government.  OPM are part of the Springboard consortium delivering the Commissioning Support Programme (CSP) since 2008. Together with Kindle, CSP recently launched its own paper on the role of commissioning (and the commissioning cycle of understanding, planning, doing, and reviewing) in delivering the Big Society agenda.

The paper delivers practical advice to commissioners on how they can work better with the community and civil sector in their area to bring service delivery closer to the community, and to widen the range of providers involved in public service provision.

Key messages for commissioners include:

1. The importance of including community organisations and service users early on in the commissioning process, to make the most of their detailed understanding of community resources and needs.

2. The need to avoid the use of overly technical jargon which can be alienating and confusing for those who are new to the world of statutory delivery – keep things simple and user friendly!

3. The value of encouraging collaboration and partnership between voluntary sector organisations, to increase their capacity for responding to competitive tenders.

4. Provide support to community organisations throughout the commissioning process wherever possible – they may need advice and guidance if they haven’t been through a competitive tendering process before.

5. Robust review practices should be agreed.  These should always be appropriate for the scale of the contract in question, and commissioners should explain the rationale behind monitoring and data requests so that they are fully understood by providers. Make the review and monitoring arrangements clear from the outset and try to agree these with the groups being commissioned at an early stage, so there are no surprises.

6. The importance of proper decommissioning processes and the need to explain the rational being used to inform decisions. Where possible provide support to organisations so they can continue to deliver in alternative contexts e.g. via grant funding.

The paper can be accessed in full from this link and for more information and support, please refer to the CSP website.

By Lauren Roberts, OPM associate fellow and Sarah Holloway, OPM senior researcher