Ambulance drivers and firefighters could break away from national service under new plans

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By Polly Curtis, Guardian Whitehall correspondent

Reporting on the address delivered by Rt Hon Francis Maude at the 2020PST/RSA Public Services Summit on the 9th Nov, Polly writes about how Ambulance drivers, paramedics and firefighters could be given the right to breakaway from the national rescue service to form for-profit groups and run their services themselves.

Ambulance drivers, paramedics and firefighters could be given the right to breakaway from the national rescue service to form for-profit groups and run their services themselves, the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has said.

The government is to unveil a white paper that will give nearly all public sector workers a right to "mutualise" services, along the lines of a John Lewis model whereby employees own the service they work for, and can profit if it makes money.

Maude said that almost all public services – bar the police and the armed forces – could be mutualised. One ambulance service had already expressed an interest and he would also look at options for the fire service, he said.

"You have to assume this is applicable across the public sector unless there is a very good reason for it not to work," he said.

Labour promised to mutualise more services – including Sure Start children centres and allowing tenants to run their own estates – and in 2008 gave NHS workers the right to request to set up a social enterprise to run a health service.

The coalition plans will go further in the scope of the organisations that will be able to mutualise, with the presumption that nearly all could, and the right to request would be strengthened. A local authority would have to give detailed reasoning for rejecting an application to mutualise from, for example, its rubbish collection workers.

Maude is due to outline the plans in a speech next week, before publishing a white paper in January. There are a variety of models that could be followed to allow employee ownership, including mutualisation, co-operatives or spin-outs where workers provide additional services for extra charges.

Maude said that in some cases it could be structured on a for-profit basis but in others simply given workers control of a service was enough to improve incentive.

He was speaking after delivering a speech to the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) in which he stressed 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.

The Cabinet Office's business plan, published yesterday, promised to "Publish plans in the public service reform white paper to expand employee ownership of public services by increasing the number of new structures including co-operatives, mutuals, and spin-outs, and providing details of how to establish a right to mutualise throughout public services." The deadline for the white paper is January 2011.

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