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Red letter day 2 February 2013

Posted by cooperatoby in cooperative, Social enterprise.
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My bookshelfI’m very glad to see that some of the 66 new so-called “public service mutuals” that are springing up in Britain really are – or intend to become – mutuals. Such is the case of York Libraries and Archives which, unless there is some major slip twixt cup and lip, plans to form itself into an Industrial and Provident Society for Community Benefit. The Cabinet Office has given it a £100,000 grant from its mutuals fund, and confirms:

Mutual Ventures has been contracted by the Cabinet Office to provide the business and legal services which City of York Libraries & Archives will need to set up the new mutual. Under current plans, the mutual will be formed as an industrial and provident society for community benefit where staff or community members can take a nominal share, and any surplus will be reinvested back into the service.

No hush-hush 51% shareholding by venture capitalists here! And in Yorkshire too – excellent. However the trade union (Unison) is against it, the Bookseller reports, as it means the council loses control. The council is certainly cutting its library budget by £1/4 million this year. This threatens jobs no doubt, but can a more enterprising approach retain them? As far as I can see, I back the council and the government on this one: community control – common ownership – is maintained, there is no asset stripping or concentration of wealth, and power is devolved to staff, managers and readers. This could result in interesting new services for local people, as it has done in the case of leisure centres: ‘reading cafés’ and ‘inspire learning centres’ are mentioned in the tender specification. The ball is in the stakeholders’ court, which is where it should be, not in Whitehall.

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