It is cheering to see the co-operative movement getting such a lot of positive publicity – a long piece on the BBC TV news last night etc. – but for a controversial reason: a sudden burst of support from the Conservative Party. In their pre-election struggle to win over a few more swing voters, they have made a lot of show of a plan to allow public sector workers to set up co-operatives to run their services as businesses, and keep some of the profit if they make any. They are portraying this as a revolutionary act akin to the “right to buy” that Thatcher brought in for council houses. I suppose then that one should be aware of exactly the same effect – a hollowing out of public service (just as now we have too little social housing).
Local control and employee participation are great things, but with public services one has to find the way to give the principal stakehoder – the service user – the lion’s share of control. On Newsnight, it was comical to see pundits from the Fabians and a right-wing thinktank agreeing to such a degree (as Gavin Essler commented). It’s true that monolithic public services have to be deconcentrated, but this had to be through multi-stakeholder co-operatives not worker co-oepratives.