Ed Miliband today visited Rochdale to give his backing to Labour councils that are handing power to local people in a radical bid to improve public services and strengthen local communities, writes Anna Turley

Instead of doing things to their communities, Labour’s co-operative councils will work with their communities to make sure local services meet the needs of local people.  It marks the end of top-down services where people are expected to put up with whatever’s on offer.  In future, residents, rather than town hall officials, will be in the driving seat.

Labour’s co-operative councils believe almost all services can be transformed by shifting power to local people.  In Lambeth, top-down youth services will be replaced with new services chosen by people living in neighbourhoods facing the highest levels of youth crime.  In Rochdale, the council is mutualising their entire council housing stock, giving residents the chance to own their own home as part of a co-operative.  In Oldham they have established three co-operative trusts schools and are introducing a Community Dividend Fund whereby partners, business and others make financial and staff time contributions for wider community benefit. Lambeth is looking at rewarding residents who get involved with benefits including job-skills training, cut-price use of council leisure facilities, or a council tax discount.

The new approach is not about turning all services into co-operatives, and it is not intended to replace skilled professionals with volunteers.  It is about giving local people choice and control over the public services they use.  The way different services work will vary, but the objective of finding new ways to hand more power, choice and control to local people remains constant.   By moving the majority of local services to new ways of working, communities will take back power from the town hall and, as a result, get back control over their own destiny.

Labour’s co-operative councils initiative shows Labour councils taking practical steps to transform major services in ways that hand power to residents, while the Tory-led Government simply uses the language of co-operation and mutualisation as a cover for their agenda of cuts, privatisation and deprofessionalisation.

Launching the network, Ed Miliband MP said, “I’m delighted to launch this network of co-operative councils. These Labour councils are determined to support their local communities in the face of a Tory-led government which is doing so much to undermine local services, using the Big Society as a cloak for the withdrawal of support. Labour councils up and down the country are showing that they are taking action to help people take control of their lives and their local communities.”

Cllr. Steve Reed, Leader of Lambeth Council, the first co-operative council, said, “We are changing the way we run council services so that local people have a much bigger say over what happens to them and the places where they live.  It means more community-owned co-operative housing, more older people choosing which care services they want to use, more local control over parks and green spaces.  We call it the cooperative council because it’s about a new partnership where the council and the community work together to make life better.”

Tessa Jowell MP, Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, said; “Labour and Co-operative councillors want to put communities in control, giving them a bigger say over local spending and working with them to find new ways to solve local problems.  This radical new approach will turn town halls upside down so instead of lording it over local communities they become their servants. This new network will bring Labour councils together so they can learn from each other how to put local people in the driving seat of service after service.”

Michael Stephenson, General Secretary of the Co-operative Party said, ‘These Labour councils have come to the home of the co-operative movement in Rochdale to reclaim founding traditions of the Labour and Co-operative movements – of collective action and co-operation, of empowerment and enterprise. These co-operative councils will help transform local services and local communities.