Life in the coop continues apace. So a misleadingly-titled article on the BBC last Thursday caught my eye. Like most of London, Lambeth Borough Council (which runs Waterloo) is facing really serious budget cuts (around 20% reduction in central gov’t funding). Services will get cut – £30m pounds’ worth (that may sound a lot, but works out as about £111/resident).
We’ve already heard that Barnet is doing a Ryanair – you want your council to work for you (or just to put you to the front of the line on stuff like planning applications) – you pay them for it (in addition to council tax, of course).
Lambeth’s approach is to spin out services as co-ops. Note that this isn’t privatisation – a co-operative is owned, run by and run for the very same people. Retail giant John Lewis (also owns Waitrose) gives partner status in the business to all 69,000 permanent employees, who run the company and take the profits.
So according to the council, they are “proposing an alternative where [the Council] can give people the tools to do the job or mutualising where [the Council] can set up something and then hand it over to the people who will use it, to run it.”
They like to highlight housing as a prime example – Lambeth already has more tenant-run estates than any other London borough.
"We have been doing this for three or four years. We have experience of it. What has happened, as a result of recession we are putting it together to help save costs, keep services and give something to the community."
The company that runs Lambeth’s leisure centres is a co-op, owned by its employees.
They also float the idea of turning some schools into mutualised private co-ops – the idea of a teacher-run school is intriguing; to what extent would parents also get a say? Lambeth is trialling a ‘Parent-Promoted Foundation School’ (link to Lambeth mag) where “local parents with support from the council took the lead in setting the school up, appointing the head teacher, choosing the design, and deciding what the school would be like”. It’s the first in the country, and took 6 years to set up. The general Secretary of the National Union of Teachers has come out guns blazing against any experimentation:
“It is simply not right that public money should be given to a group of enthusiastic amateurs, motivated by what they want for their own children.”
“If they think there are issues with the schools, there is a number of ways to suggest changes through the existing structure.”