The new Rochdale Pioneers

Cllr Colin Lambert


Cllr Colin Lambert, Leader of Rochdale Borough Council – one of the original members of the Co-operative Councils Network – writes on the new model of co-operative housing Rochdale is pioneering for its housing stock.

There is a real sense of momentum at the moment behind the co-operative agenda in Labour local government.

Labour councils are recognising the potential of co-operative approaches for a new way to deliver services – one that is in keeping with our traditional values of community, mutualism and self-help.

That’s why Rochdale are among the 13 Labour councils to have established the Co-operative councils Network to share our experience in how we can use co-operative approaches to transform service delivery, give people more power and ownership over the services they use, and to engage and empower employees.

Rochdale have recognised the potential for this and are looking for a radical way to reshape the way we deliver housing services. We are leading the way by turning the entirety of our housing stock into a co-operative.

Our starting point was to establish an Investment & Involvement Commission to look at what we wanted our housing service to look like.

We knew tenants wanted secure and decent home to live in, warmth and access to essential services, a safe environment, the ability to look after their own health and well-being, and the opportunity to learn and be trained and to find work.

Our tenants needed these things, but so did many of our staff, 85% of whom live locally.

And we knew our tenants and our employees wanted to be more engaged in the decisions that affected them. 81% of our tenants were satisfied with the service they received but only 58% were satisfied with opportunities to participate in decision-making.

The Commission looked at several different options, including bringing the housing back to the Council or staying as the ALMO. And we looked outside of public borrowing limits at traditional transfers or a hybrid ALMO/transfer model. But we thought there might be a new model to explore.

Our vision was one where there was greater co-ownership, with tenants and employees as members and where there was a greater degree of shared priorities and working together.

The Commission recommended the transfer to a new mutual model, co-owned by tenants and employees as the best way to secure long-term financial sustainability and to give tenants and employees stronger sense of ownership in providing high quality housing service for the future.

We see this approach as a new form of public ownership. It is a Community Benefit Society with a legal commitment to public purpose, and retains any surplus for community. And those responsible for delivering services are directly accountable to those most affected by it. Our co-operative housing transfer is a collaborative approach, which has the potential to breakdown binary or dualistic relationships, and to get people, bodies and agencies working together. It also forms a new basis for collaborative working with the Council itself and our Councillors

Co-operative housing represents a clear opportunity for Co-operative Councils to transform organisations with a new approach and culture, empower local people, securing the future of democratically accountable professionally run services, and to provide a modern, co-operative solution to secure and decent homes for our communities.