Since 2010, 120 or so Public Service Mutuals have been formed, employing about 35,000 people and accounting for about £1bn in public spending. The next Government says it will create more under new legislation.
So is it time for a formal trade body, let's call it The Public Service Mutuals Network (PSMN) to be created?
Trade associations do three things: they give Members vital information, they stage helpful events and foster networks and they advocate on behalf of a sector with government at national, local and devolved levels.
Trade bodies are often small but, when organised and well-led, can punch above their weight, like ERSA (the Employment Related Services Association) or the New Schools Network.
So I think 'Yes' to the 'PSMN' three reasons
Firstly, although PSMs hail from different parts of the public sector and are of different shapes and sizes, they all face similar issues around business formation, stabilisation and growth. Numerous unresolved challenges are common such as VAT, pensions and commissioning. A trade association could help.
Secondly, PSMs are already working together informally and a trade-body would be a natural next-step. There is an easy affinity and tendency to self-organise informally , be this through the Social Enterprise UK network, the Northern Soul group, the E3M collaboration or our own Social Club. This suggests a ready market for a more formal trade association.
Thirdly, a trade body would give PSMs a sharper public identity. While PSMs are part of many 'worlds': the third sector, the social enterprise and employee-owned sectors - and feel highly affiliated with one or all of these - the PSM 'brand' needs to be solidified if a wave of new PSMs are going to be part of the future public service landscape.
Again, looking across at health, NHS Trusts have their own clearly identified body, NHS Providers (formerly the Foundation Trusts Association). While PSMs are tiny in comparison, the powerful voice that NHS Providers offers is something to look towards.
Who should do this? Obviously, this is a 'how' not a 'why' question. There are a number of well-organised players who could host or incubate such a body. That is not a problem.
The real challenge is getting all PSMs to see that now is the time - and, of course, to come up with some or all of the funding to make it happen.
Back to stepping out now