APSE study sounds co-ops warning for parks services provision

APSE analysis casts doubt over effectiveness of using cooperatives and mutuals in service provision.

There is no evidence that cooperatives and mutuals can improve parks services provision, a new study has suggested.

Research carried out for the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) revealed a lack of data about the benefits that co-ops and mutuals bring to local services and any evidence contained insufficient detail.

De Montford University analysed information from 1,600 sources but found only 12 case studies where impact evaluations had been done. None related to parks and not all schemes had succeeded.

The study also revealed the divestment of local services to mutuals and co-ops could lead to less local accountability and poorer terms and conditions for staff.

Proof of Delivery sets out factors necessary for the bodies to succeed in delivering public services. They include contract lock-in, stakeholder buy-in and "significant levels" of public sector support.

APSE assistant chief executive Mark Bramah said the models were not suitable for every service. "There are complex issues surrounding parks and handing over services to the community can't work without additional resources," he maintained.

"We aren't saying don't do it but we want people to use this report as a tool kit to see how these models can meet the criteria needed to deliver the service any better than alternative methods."

Association View

"Co-ops and mutuals can have an important role but policy-makers should look for tangible evidence that they can provide services more effectively and at better value. A complex set of factors needs to be in place and public sector support is required to sustain this model. This means a climate of collaboration, not competition, must be fostered."

Paul O'Brien, chief executive, Association of Public Service Excellence.

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