As public anger mounts over the Post Office scandal, which saw sub-postmasters wrongly convicted after a faulty IT system threw up false allegations of fraud, the co-op movement has repeated its calls to mutualise the business.
Thinktank Mutuo has reissued its Post Office: Made Mutual A publicly-owned, co-operative post office report. Written by Peter Hunt and Cliff Mills, it argues for “a business model driven by the incentives, opportunities and accountability provided by mutual ownership, and capturing the energy, skills and enthusiasm of employees, sub-postmasters, multiple operators and communities”.
Mutuo said: “No one can fail to have been moved by the appalling treatment of sub-postmasters throughout the Horizon scandal. Post Office Limited has exhibited the worst possible behaviours of a state-owned business. At best, it has been a faceless bureaucracy, accountable to no one. At worst? We can only imagine its impact on the innocent people affected.”
It says things might have been different if campaigner Alan Bates and the other sub-postmasters had been part owners of the Post Office. “How soon would the faulty systems have been exposed? Would individuals really have been convicted on its evidence?’
Mutuo added: “Back in 2011, unaware of what was taking place behind the scenes, Mutuo proposed a new mutual structure for Post Office Ltd. One that empowered the sub postmasters, employees and customers as the key stakeholders. It would have replaced the single government shareholder that has been shown to be totally inadequate. It was intended to put real people first.
“Post Office executives told us then that relationships with sub-postmasters were ‘currently difficult’ which has to be an all-time winner for understatement. Yet the outline plan for a mutual was accepted by them and by the coalition government of the time, to their credit.
“It was to be implemented once a business transformation plan was complete, but that was soon forgotten following the Conservative election win in 2015.
“In its place, the cruel policy of prosecuting so many people continued, driven forward by Post Office executives as agents of the single state shareholder.
“We are re-releasing this policy paper today. Post Office: Made Mutual is the argument for a publicly owned, but co-operative Post Office. It is just as relevant today.”
Writing in City AM, Rose Marley, CEO of Co-operatives UK, and Andrew Whyte, CEO of the Association of Finance Mutuals, said the case was a reminder of the social purpose off business.
‘The spotlight has fallen on the societal value of businesses and how they can be run in ways that profit the wider community, including their own staff, as well as profit the company balance sheet,” they wrote.
“Turn that spotlight and the solution is already here; a solution that provides resilient businesses with huge potential to fix broken systems (and maybe even the Post Office). This is a reminder of how mutuals are, in many ways, best-suited to deliver products and services that most effectively meet the needs of their users.”
Calling for more support for the mutual sector, they added: “Increased government support for mutuals is a key step towards restoring trust between business and society in the UK. Unlike recent scandals, we should not need a TV drama to remind us of the substantial societal benefit both to communities and capitalism provided by mutuals, cooperatives and social enterprises.”