Graeme Nuttall: Employee ownership rises on UK political agenda

The 2012 party conference season culminated in headlines for Chancellor George Osborne’s ‘swap rights for shares’ plan.

Employee ownership has never been higher on the UK political agenda. The 2012 party conference season culminated in headlines for Chancellor George Osborne’s ‘swap rights for shares’ plan.

There are also other measures out for consultation. This autumn, the government will deliver its full response to The Nuttall Review of Employee Ownership, published in July, and the Treasury will complete its review of employee ownership before the Autumn Statement on 5 December, while the Cabinet Office continues to promote public sector mutualisation.

It is important to remember what underpins this push to promote employee ownership into the mainstream of the UK economy. There is a strong case for greater diversity of business models, so as to move away from the ‘PLC monoculture’ and the employee-ownership businessmodel, in particular, offers a winning combination. It delivers improved business performance and increased employee wellbeing, often with community benefits.

Academic literature supports employee ownership’s claims to deliver this winning combination of better business and happier employees. There has, however, been a tendency to disbelieve the advantages, even among those associated with employee ownership.

The Nuttall Review looked at existing research, including work done by the Employee Ownership Association and the Mutuals Taskforce. The review found considerable evidence to suggest that employee ownership did indeed improve business performance and increase economic resilience. There was also greater employee commitment and engagement, with reduced absenteeism.

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Rather than wait for additional research, most employers and employees are happy to follow their own instincts, learning from the many flourishing companies that already have an employee-ownership business model.

Graeme Nuttall is a partner at Field Fisher Waterhouse and author of The Nuttall Review of Employee Ownership