Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude has used a visit to Suffolk to highlight the major role that mutual organisations can play in improving productivity in the public sector.

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He speaking during a tour of the employee-owned social enterprise Leading Lives in Ipswich, accompanied by local MP Ben Gummer.

Leading Lives, a member of the EADT’s Future50 listing of up-and-coming businesses with high growth potential, supports 1,200 adults with learning disabilities across Suffolk through community hubs, short break respite services, in the home and out and about in the community.

The organisation was formed following Suffolk County Council’s strategic decision to externalise services and it now ranks as the biggest worker-owned co-operative in the UK as well as one of the top six social care co-operatives in the country.

The minister was making the visit to see at first-hand how the organisation has progressed since divesting from Suffolk County Council and to discover more about Leading Lives’ structure as an employee-owned co-operative. Employee ownership is embedded through the governance of the company with front-line staff elected by their peers as employee directors.

He also talked to staff about their experience of transferring from the public into the private mutual sector and met some of Leading Lives’ customers attending the New South West Community Hub, in Ipswich.

Mr Maude said: “Every part of the public sector is having to adapt to tough economic times and look at innovative ways of delivering public services.

“We know that mutuals and joint ventures, SMEs and the voluntary sector offer the chance of driving up productivity everywhere. Social enterprises like Leading Lives have a big role to play in building a more diverse marketplace of suppliers.

“As an employee-owned organisation, it is demonstrating how the flexibility of this model can provide better value for money and better services for customers.”

Leading Lives has received support from the Cabinet Office Social Enterprise Investment Fund and Investment and Contract Readiness Fund programmes since it was established just under two years ago to enable the organisation to make the transformation from former public service to a new mutual business.

Leading Lives’ managing director ,Tony Carr, said: “We were delighted to be able to welcome the Minister, Francis Maude. We understand, that at Leading Lives, we are playing our part locally in the transformation of how public services are delivered across the country.

“It is very encouraging for all our staff to be recognised as a good example of a new public service mutual business.

“Since we divested from Suffolk County Council, we have worked very hard to set up a progressive business model as an employee owned co-operative, putting those who are in closest contact with our customers at the heart of how our business is run, whilst concentrating on providing effective and responsive service to vulnerable adults and their family carers.”

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