Posted by: Helen Giles30/09/2010
So the government is supporting the running of public services by co-operatives. Oh the immutable nature of human folly! I daresay most of them are too young to remember the heady days of the 1970s and 1980s when the co-operative movement featured so large in the social housing sector that almost every other small housing association or homelessness agency were run on co-operative lines as ‘collectives’.
Millions of public pounds were slopped down the sluice while those of us employed in collectives had an extended party, or should I say bunfight. Clients’ interests always at the bottom of the agenda while we vied with each other in facilitated sessions (all paid for by housing grants) debating which group among us was the most discriminated against. So much so that one of our companion organisations, Homeless Action, was widely and affectionately known as ‘Pointless Faction’.
And like the legendary 40 Californians changing a lightbulb, it took a minimum of 18 months to get a decision on anything at all, be it tea bags versus tea leaves for the kitchen, the introduction of a new arrears policy or the taking on of a new scheme.
Every employee could benefit from at least 30 days’ per year sickness leave on top of their holidays because there was no manager to suggest you shouldn’t. And if any member of the self-managing team suggested that you shouldn’t, they were soon slapped down as an oppressor.
Many will know the story of how when Evelyn Waugh was chastised by a friend who asked ‘How can you have such a vicious tongue when you’re a Roman Catholic?’, he responded: ‘Well just imagine, dear lady, what I’d be like if I wasn’t a Roman Catholic.’ And so the government might say that slowness in decision-making, waste, and poor customer service have been a feature of public services when they’ve been run within hierarchical structures, to which I would reply, just see how bad it can get when you do away with management. Or flatten it out. They just have to come and ask those of us who were there the first time around to see the failure of the Utopian dream.
Helen Giles is a member of Inside Housing’s expert panel, focusing on human resources and staff development issues. Ask Helen a question in the forum.
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