The Aizlewood Group is a collective of experienced people who are passionate about the co-op movement. We came together as we believe in co-operatives and trade unions working together in co-operation. We work in partnership by writing research papers, speaking at seminars and conferences and to policy makers to defend co-operation against competition. We warn against Public Service Mutuals and believe ownership of public services should be in the public sector while enabling a multi-stakeholder approach to decision making. We are a member of the Sheffield Co-operative Development Group (SCDG).
The Conservative Party agenda has always been to reduce the size of the state. In recent times, they have convinced some people that a social enterprise can be a co-operative when it is not. They talk about community asset transfer to the community when we – the community – already own it and it is under democratic control, that is local and central government. We call this agenda, neoliberal.
Neoliberalism transfers ownership and assets to small, less democratic organisations, groups or individuals. It convinces hard working, busy people that we should buy what we already own. It then splits the co-operative and the trade union movement apart, by reducing the terms and conditions of workers. Neoliberals then extract profit by undermining the public sector and the capacity of the public sector in order to privatise and reduce the size of the state. This agenda is a result of four clever and planned neoliberal strategies.
Strategy 1, commodifying public services to sellable procurement packages that then can be contracted out to bidders under procurement law.
Strategy 2, austerity driven economics where the contract value is driven down. As most of the cost of contract delivery is staffing, the terms and conditions of workers are reduced, whether through watering down TUPE legislation or by creating a two-tier workforce (England). Local, devolved and central government is forced to pass onto the PSM cuts in the contract value.
Strategy 3, creating new models of service delivery with the illusion of giving the workforce control over their terms and conditions. The spinning out of local, regional or central government services to co-operatives, mutuals or social enterprises – a PSM - also involves budget savings. Rights and improved wages, pensions like the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) and allowances are the target of cost savings. What is the difference in a co-operative running a public service if they are behaving like a private provider?
Strategy 4, public relations and soundbites. Everything is about social value but very little about the local economy or rights of the workers. Social value encourages volunteers to run libraries that were once full of paid staff. These workers spend in the local economy, so where is the social value in seeing the decline of small businesses by reducing paid employment? The public relation triumph by the neoliberals of convincing us that the ‘big society’ does not affect social mobility, while slashing take-home pay is staggering. A PSM - that relies on voluntary labour or a cheaper workforce to deliver services - is great according to the neoliberals. Just because it is a co-operative, social enterprise or mutual is of no comfort to the worker who cannot afford to feed their families.
At the Aizlewood Group, we highlight this commodifying of people and offer a challenge to co-operators: is it not better to have a public service that we all own, under democratic accountability but with multi-stakeholder input and decision making than a privatised company with a nice name?
 In Scotland and Cymru/Wales the Two-tier Workforce Code is still in operation.
Click HERE for the people behind the AG name.