This piece was originally published on the Guardian Public Leaders Network.

In the immediate wake of the crisis at Southern Cross, the business secretary Vince Cable said something remarkable: he highlighted the "fragility of investor-owned business". This is astonishing in the light of the domination of our economy by such companies and our almost absolute reliance on them for food, transport and clothing. Cable also promised a review of private equity in public services.

On a different wavelength of the political spectrum, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has said that employee ownership is the "way of the future" and aims for 1 million public sector staff taking ownership of their services.

Over in the red corner, the Labour party leader Ed Miliband, perhaps not uncharacteristically, hasn't said much on the issue. But former Labour minister Tessa Jowell agrees the model we must look to is one where companies are "owned, respectively, by customers and staff", and says that "mutualism is uniquely placed to deliver real practical benefits".

So everyone agrees (let's assume Miliband is with us) that ownership matters and that more of our assets, services and businesses should be owned by staff, communities and service users.

So what are policymakers doing about it? Well, strangely, almost nothing.

The truth is that, given EU and competition law, there's not much anyone can do to support one form of ownership over another. All businesses must be treated equally. Procurement cannot favour businesses owned by staff, communities or charities above those owned by venture capitalists or remote shareholders. Once the doors to competition are open, then only the market can decide.

Jowell admits that the left "walked away from the notion of ownership as a political issue" and that "in retrospect we were far too hasty". That candour is to be applauded. It would be even more admirable if politicians could admit their hands were tightly tied.

Although maybe there is room to manoeuvre.

At the most technocratic level, a few imaginative "tricks" could influence ownership: public officials could experiment with asset transfer, framework agreements for service delivery, competitions for a mutual joint venture partner, and transfers of shares to groups of staff over time.

At a policy level, commissioners and local politicians could give greater consideration to social and environmental values when procuring services. An "investor-owned business" might still win. But it probably gives social enterprises a better shot at the title.

And at the highest level, ministers and other policymakers could be shaping EU law, the World Trade Organisation trade talks and other tedious international agreements that determine our ability to set our own rules.

So policymakers are pushing hard on each of these, right? Well, no, no and no. Or more accurately: not really, there's not much evidence, and no.

The furthest any government has gone in practice is to work towards a level playing field. A cross-party group recently concluded that with "the right guidance, encouragement and direction, employee-owned businesses can compete fairly and successfully with conventional companies."

Our politicians' ambitions to rein in certain models and promote others are light years away. It seems that yet again, the hunger for headlines is hampering genuine attempts to address the relationship between rhetoric and reality. It's time to own up.