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John Restakis’s visit to Wales: Key Points June 2012

1.  John welcomed the emphasis placed in the forthcoming Social Services Bill on the need for services to be user-centred and user-directed, the need to increase service users’ access to information and the need for early intervention.

2.  John argued that to put this vision into practice it is necessary to ensure that users participate as equals in the governance of the body providing services and that this can best be achieved in a co-operative model.  This equalises access to information on finances, performance statistics, quality standards, development priorities etc. and also provides service users with a social network based on reciprocity which enhances their social capital and sense of well-being.

3.  John argued that whilst state or public services may provide a good standard of care it is difficult for such services to be tailored to the specific needs of individual users and that co-operative structures are much more adaptable and can respond more quickly to changed circumstances and to innovative ways of providing support.

Where service providers are also co-op members it is easier to ensure more appropriate induction and on-going staff training and to raise the employment status of the staff.

4.  Co-operatives can take a number of forms:  customer or user co-operatives,

 producer or worker co-operatives or a combination of the two.  A further, multi-stakeholder, model has been developed which provides for membership by community-based supporters (individual or institutional) and this may well be the model best suited to the provision of social support services with an eye to serving wider community needs and interests - both current and future – and to ensure optimum co-operation with Local Authorities.

5.  John referred to the situation in Bologna, where 87% of social care is provided by co-operatives under contract to the municipal authority.  He said they had access to a number of additional income streams – eg by charging those members who could afford to pay for some of the services provided, by selling services to other groups or individuals and by attracting investment, particularly from relatives of user members.

Individual co-ops had to bid for municipal contracts and are supported by co-op consortia that negotiate with the municipal authorities on matters such as uniform assessment criteria, quality standards and evaluation, procurement procedures etc.

6.  It was noted that the Government proposed to consult further on its proposals to promote social enterprises.  John pointed out that all co-operatives fell within this classification but that not all social enterprises – even though being not-for-profit organisations - are necessarily co-operatives.  With regard to the provision of social care, he argued that the Government should indicate a strong preference for the co-operative (especially the multi-stakeholder) model as being the best suited to realising the vision expressed in the forthcoming Bill.

7.  John expressed reservations about the possibility of producing the culture change that was required in the delivery of social services on a cost neutral basis and emphasised that the process would have to be relatively slow and incremental.  He was currently leading a group in Canada looking at the possibility of introducing a franchising system that would set standards agreed with the Government and then let franchises to local co-operative groups that could deliver the services required.

8.  John also referred to the Annual Social Co-operatives Summer School which he had helped establish in Bologna some years ago.  Groups from different countries were encouraged to meet for some days to discuss their own situation before attending the Bologna Summer School for international interaction.  He intended reviving this venture for 2013 and said he would be happy to help facilitate representation from Wales.  (Could this prove very useful in progressing this kind of development in Wales?)

9.  It was noted that the Welsh Government did not have complete freedom of action in this field, particularly as Wales is tied to the welfare system determined by the UK Government.  The Welsh Government intended however to introduce legislation to protect vulnerable adults.  The possibility of utilising the Direct Payments scheme to promote social co-operatives was also mentioned as a means of breaking down the isolation of individual service users and providing them with the social network and support which would enable them to reap maximum benefit from the system.

10.  John Restakis made some additional points to those made in the previous meeting, in particular:

A. In Italy, for social co-ops the Government meets the overhead employment costs of marginalized people (poorly educated, ex psychiatric patients, drug addicts etc) which greatly enhances their employability

B. One can expect to meet resistance to change from those embedded in current institutions

C. The co-operative model is not an immediate panacea, but will take 15-20 years commitment to achieve a really significant impact.

D. Quality of services depends on the quality of the relationship between service provider and service user.  This should be based on reciprocity (mutual benefit – but not only on a one-to-one basis) and democratic control.

E. Government bodies usually prefer to let a small number rather than a multiplicity of contracts.  In Bologna, in order to maintain local democratic control, local co-ops have formed consortia which can compete for local authority contracts but then sub-let parts of the contract to locally based co-ops.

F. In Italy and Canada some social care co-ops have been formed by existing agencies transforming themselves into co-ops or forming co-ops with other existing agencies. In some instances, new groups of service providers and service users come together to form new co-ops.

G. Direct payments made to individuals can isolate them unless peer support and assistance with overhead administration tasks is available.  Co-ops are best placed to provide this supportive social network.

H. Various surveys have shown that service users within co-operative models experience higher levels of satisfaction than those in other environments:  their overall sense of well-being is increased and their need to be referred for more intensive forms of care is minimised.  Service providers report higher levels of job-satisfaction than workers in either the public or private sectors – even where wages are somewhat lower – due to their ability to influence the work environment, to relate better to service users and because of their input to education and training.

 

David Smith, on behalf of Wales Progressive Co-operators.

 

 

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