On the Sofa - Andrew Rawnsley from Aspire Community Benefit Society

by Andrew Rawnsley 06/10/2015

What’s your business? 

Aspire Community Benefit Society is a staff led mutual of 700 staff which spun out of Leeds City Council in August 2015. We provide social care services to 1000 adults with learning disabilities in Leeds across a range of supported living, respite and day services.

What did you do before you set up the business?

I was the Head of Service of Leeds City Council’s Learning Disability Community Support Service and had worked across sectors with people with learning disabilities in Leeds for the last 30 years.

Tell us what motivated you to spin-out of the public sector?

As a senior leadership team we believe that we have a good service model that is highly regarded with high demand. In light of the pressures on local government finances, we were keen to ensure that we had an opportunity to influence our own destiny. It was our view that the development of a public service mutual offered us our greatest chance to build on some of the best elements of the public sector ethos whilst providing the freedoms to innovate and grow.  

How would you describe the journey?

Long, occasionally frustrating but ultimately incredibly rewarding. 

At an early stage we knew that we needed external support and were lucky enough to get some SEIF monies to bring this support in. That external support from Stepping Out was invaluable at that point to help us get a clear understanding of our true unit costs and the impact of our potential spin out on the wider Council.

The scale of our service is such that the numbers of interested stakeholders was huge. We had a strong clear vision and a compelling rationale. Throughout the process we tried to ensure that we kept engagement with key stakeholders high on our agenda and that we were consistent with our message. 

The contract negotiations were generally conducted well with both sides looking to ensure that our transition to the new world was as smooth as possible with sustainable positions for both Aspire and the Council. 

What would be your advice to yourself now if you were starting out?

Get fitter sooner! – spinning out can be a long and all-consuming journey, and anyone heading the process up needs to be resilient.

What is your best advice to people setting out now?

Know your business inside out, believe in it and be prepared to navigate your journey towards your destination mindful that this will not always be in a straight line. Knowing what points were negotiable and which ones were not was vital.

If you hadn’t done this, what might you have done?

Had we not spun out, I would now be looking how to make further efficiencies and cuts in services.

How do you see the future of your business?

It is still very early days, but I believe that the future is bright so long as we keep focussing on our core business and grow organically.

What do you think the new government will mean for the mutuals sector? 

Again, early days, but I can only see further opportunities for the mutual sector as government look for more innovative solutions to the delivery of public services.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Healthy, happy and here leading Aspire as a thriving organisation.

To finish, what is your one single big message to public sector bodies looking at spinning out?

Everything is possible.

Back to stepping out now