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Editor's blog Wednesday 10 November 2010: Public services: never knowingly undersold

It has been quite clear now for some time that whatever your question in public sector policy, the answer is mutualism a la the John Lewis Partnership.

It's not a new thing. Neu Labour (itself the John Lewis Partnership version of The People's Party) used mutualism as a fifth ace in policy every time it got into deep shit: the funniest example was Alan Milburn's eleventh-hour efforts to flog foundation trust policy to his own benches as a revival of the co-operative movement. Ahem.

More recently, the infamous social enterprise unit of the DH and right to request were notable by their unpopularity in the long, reassuring shadow of the NHS pension.

Now Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude has reportedly told the RSA 20-20 Public Services Summit that almost all public sector workers will be given the right to mutualise.

The Guardian's Polly Curtis reports Maude as telling the event today that 'the three big reforms in the public sector are mutualising services, delivering more services online to save money and introducing more payment by results contracts to increase competition'.

Check out this video, for cameos from Tim Kelsey, Alan Milburn, Stephen Dorrell, Philip Hammond, James Purnell.

I think the principle of mutualism is a nice idea. 'Never knowingly undersold' is a good phrase and a good principle in retail. Moreover, I'm terribly fond of John Lewis for a bit of soft furnishing aspirational lifestyle gubbins (though I did buy two pairs of their own-brand jeans, both of which frayed within a few weeks - which, given my moderately sedentary lifestyle, can be read as proof that while it may look okay, mutualism doesn't durably work in practical terms when you'd expect it to).

I don't think mutualism in and of itself is going to fix the problems with provision of public  services. And I am not at all clear why others think it will, unless, it's a 'got to get it off our hands ... what might they buy ... how about somehting co-op-ish?' sort of thought.