Cllr Alex Sobel, recently elected Labour and Co-operative Councillor for Moortown Ward on Leeds City Council, looks at how the co-operative ideal can be harnessed for the benefit of the community.

During my election campaign and subsequently talking to local people, they are looking for something different, a different way of doing politics and are keen to have a greater say in how decisions are made in their local area. People are also concerned about the big problems slowly engulfing our society around pensions, climate change, housing, work (or lack of it) and of course the cuts to every part of the public sector coupled with a lack of growth.

As a co-operative Councillor I am compelled to utilise the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity to meet these challenges.

My vision for harnessing the power of the co-operative ideal for the area I represent falls into 2 areas:

  1. Utilising participatory and co-operative principles to invite people into power and broaden the base of how decisions are made
  2. Develop co-operative solutions to local problems around older persons care, climate change, housing and work against a backdrop of cuts

As a local backbench councillor I don’t have many non-statutory powers which can be devolved to the community, however in Leeds we do have budgets devolved to ward pots and into an area committee fund (area committees are made up of 3 wards). Participatory techniques such as Participatory Budgeting can be used to give local people a greater say. The councillors from the area committee have already started to engage with Church Action on Poverty who run the Participatory Budgeting Unit and I intend to pursue Participatory Budgeting in at least a proportion of our area funds to increase transparency, accountability, understanding and social inclusion with regard to our area. The area committee should also look at using social media to better communicate what is happening and how local people can get involved in decision making. I try and be as transparent as possible through social media and I will shortly start an email list and newsletter which should further communicate how people can take part in local decision making.

In terms of working with the community to develop co-operative solutions there is already a wealth of interest and motivation from the community to undertake co-operative projects. A local transition group is looking at ways of reducing energy consumption and making homes more energy efficient through local people working reciprocally and sharing expertise. I am supporting a nascent homeshare scheme where single older people living in larger properties can share their house with young professionals who cannot get on the housing ladder, this also increases the quality of life and support for the older person. A group of us are exploring how to make our streets safer for children’s play using instruments such as temporary play street orders to close roads for children’s play.

Achieving this won’t require huge private sector investment or traditional public sector spending but a co-operative approach utilising the resources we can find in our own community backed by the local authority and expertise from the co-operative movement.

I believe it is this difference of approach that marks us out as co-operative.

For those interested in the issues explored in this piece there is an Open Space Event exploring all these issues with Sheffield Business School  and Co-operatives Yorkshire and the Humber on the 26th July –