April 25, 2012
2012 has been officially named by the United Nations as the International Year of Cooperatives. They are widely recognised as being a force for good – with the impact of cooperatives extending from housing to community shops to football clubs.
Yet it appears this is an opportunity that the Government plans to let slip. By the end of this Parliament, their only commitment to a cooperative agenda will likely have been the conversion of public services from being state run to being cooperative led.
While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is an indication that the Coalition views cooperatives and mutuals as mechanisms to disengage the state from the provision of public services, rather than because they genuinely believe in the development of a cooperative economy and society.
On the other hand, Labour has held a historic connection to the cooperative movement, with the Co-operative Party having been a sister organisation since 1927. In fact, there are 29 Co-operative Party MPs, with further representation in the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and in local government.
The MPs range from senior figures like Ed Balls and Stephen Twigg, to fast up and comers such as Stella Creasy and Luciana Berger. This is a Parliamentary coalition that should be utilised to promote a new consensus on the companies where people work, the shops and services that people use and the places where people live.
Earlier this year, the Government said that they intend to introduce a Cooperatives Bill in the upcoming Queens Speech on 9th May. This is to be cautiously welcomed, but undoubtedly the devil is in the detail.
Creating a genuinely cooperative society requires more than just a bill – it requires direction, policies and an end target. There are around 13 million cooperative members within the UK, all of varying degree, but the ambition should be to involve almost every person across the country in one way or another.
The left therefore need to start laying out what is required in law to make this a reality. A good start would undoubtedly be simplifying the rules around starting a cooperative or mutual and providing advice to do so. But there is a need to go a great deal further.