Minister backs mutuals as model of modern times

This year’s Mutuals Forum organised by think-tank Mutuo took place at the Emirates Stadium London with politicians and business leaders highlighting the sector’s success and addressing current challenges.

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls MP, told delegates that far from being outdated, the mutual model was well suited to modern times — both in financial services and in education. Referring to his previous role at the Treasury, Mr Balls said that long before the economic difficulties of the past year, he had argued for a strong mutual and co-operative sector.

He suggested that because mutuals are not purely profit-driven they can be more cost effective than other businesses. He said: “Mutuals are innovative, particularly good at finding niche markets and trying things in a different way.

“They have a history of being embedded in their local communities and serving those communities well and they have the ability to build trusting relationships that can survive through difficult times.”

Mr Balls said the “wrenching” times faced by the financial markets had already seen a number of significant responses from the mutual sector. 

The coming together of Co-operative Financial Services and the Britannia Building Society to form a super mutual and the “astonishing” performance of the Co-op Group were all examples of how the co-operative and mutual sectors role could grow in the future.

In education, Mr Balls stressed his belief that financial education should be embedded into the curriculum — something that will be introduced in the current Parliament. And he argued that a powerful learning tool in that education was the child trust fund.

“It’s a way of learning about finance that’s personal to the child,” he said, adding that about 50 per cent of child trust funds are being run and managed by the mutual sector.

Mr Balls added that the success of co-operative trust schools meant that in the next wave of trust schools almost one in four would be co-operative trusts.

He said the co-operative model was well suited to help not just the most able children, but every pupil.

“The culture of aspiration should apply to every child, but some face barriers to learning from outside of school, such as health or housing issues. If the school works together with the community there is no barrier too great to overcome, and that’s what co-operatives are about.”

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