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  • Writer's pictureJohn Copps

Making the case for models of public service delivery that embrace cooperative principles

Updated: Jun 10

Too many of our public services have become detached from the people and places they are there to serve, with detrimental consequence for outcomes and cost. In the fifth part of our Prioritising Public Services series, John Copps says that by embracing delivery models that are more focused on local people and communities we can change that.

Involvement of services users in decision-making.

Empowered public servants.

Provision rooted in local communities, rather than set by distant corporate or bureaucratic priorities.

The problem with the way public services are organised is that we have too few of the above. The impact of that on services is that are not focused enough on what users need to improve their lives.

But we know that people – service users and staff – want more influence over their services.

And whilst commissioning and policy decisions are made by senior leaders, it is front-line teams of public servants working together with users in a place and community that understand how to make the biggest difference people’s lives.

The right response to many of the current failings in public services to give users and staff more say in how they are run. This means putting people above process, resisting the urge to tie up public servants with assessment rules and procedure, and listening and acting on what users think about their services.

Social partnership between citizens, communities and services, based on a shared sense of responsibility. Democratic engagement in setting priorities. Coproduction that allows citizens to be equal partners in designing and commissioning public services. Focus on maximising social value. Embracing innovation.

These insights are among the cooperative principles – and can help transform local services.

The Cooperative Councils Innovation Network are leading the charge for local government into the upcoming election, putting these principles on the agenda. Apply these insights to public services, they argue, and you have a recipe for more satisfied and engaged users, professionals that can excel in their jobs, and better overall outcomes.

Following up this article, Mutual Ventures will explore what applying insights from cooperative principles means in three areas where the issues facing public services are most acute. These are:

  1. Adults residential care – where the ‘crisis’ in care means access and quality is variable and costs are high.

  2. Primary care – where the traditional model of GP partnership is under pressure from burgeoning demand, a shortage of GPs, and new doctors wanting to do things differently

  3. Children's residential care – where long-term outcomes for children are poor, availability and quality of placements are inconsistent, and the Competition and Markets Authority has recently warned of 'excessive' profits made by the private sector

Cooperative principles are a powerful tool to guide change as we will show in the examples above. As public services continue to be under pressure, we need a way to maintaining the connection between people and place, and focus on outcomes that matter to users - and cooperative principles can do just that.

To learn more about the themes in this article or how MV could help your service embrace cooperative principles contact

MV is a proud to be an affiliate member of the Cooperative Councils Innovation Network. Read more about the Network at

Access all our resources on Prioritising Public Services here.


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