Later today at Labour Party Conference, our fringe looks at the work of Labour & Co-operative councillors, from supporting credit unions to becoming a Co-operative Council. Here Liverpool City Councillor Nick Crofts – one of the speakers – sets out a few ideas.

Liverpool has been a real hub of co-operative politics since the General Election in 2010. Luciana Berger and Stephen Twigg were elected alongside Louise Ellman to give the city 3 Co-operative MPs. In 2012, 7 Co-operative Party-sponsored Council candidates were successfully elected, giving the Party a real grass-roots base in local politics.

These electoral successes have followed as a consequence of the rejuvenation of the Liverpool and Sefton Co-operative Party branch. The branch elected enthusiastic officers, and transformed itself completely. Too often, Co-op Party meetings (and, dare I say it, our sister party’s meeting too) have been boring and inward-looking. Too often, the members would only engage with the minutes of the previous meeting, rather than with the outside world.

So the branch reorganized itself, arranging an array of interesting speakers, with debates and discussions. It provided a friendly and a welcoming atmosphere and – imagine! – recruited scores of new members. It invested to develop members, by sending people off to conferences and the summer school, Summerfest.

It organised campaigning to take on the legal loansharks. We even have a fundraiser planned for next month – Stella Creasy MP herself is coming to do a dinner! The rejuvenated branch has given the Co-operative councillors a platform, inspiring us to find co-operative policies and solutions. At an opportune time, as the city faces millions of pounds of cuts. There are three areas I’d like to focus on.

As a ward-councillor – the Problem-solving approach

Each group of three ward councillors has a set up a local ‘Problem Solving Group’. The PSG approach recognises that there is little money and what money there is has to be geared to leverage the maximum amount of output. This is real co-operation – working in a collaborative way with delivery partners such as housing associations, the police, fire brigade, social enterprises – anyone with a locus on the patch, looking for ‘simple solutions on a shoestring’.

My ward PSG organised a Big Clean-Up day on a former-Council estate. We drew in the housing association, the Council neighbourhood team, street cleaners, the young offenders of Community Payback, and lots of local residents.

We organised a huge litter pick, brought in street sweeping machines, stripped out weeds and tidied up and replanted flower beds, replaced warn-out street signs, and had a big give-away of hanging baskets. We provided skips for the community to use to de-clutter – and they filled up in a matter of moments! We arranged free dog ‘chipping’ and drew out dozens of local residents on the day to ask them what they thought the big issues were, and what could be improved on their estate.

By working together in partnership with local providers, we were able to get a lot more bang for our buck and deliver a really impressive day that had an immediate and obvious impact.

As an Authority

Liverpool City Council is putting co-operative principles into action by investing £1 million in a consortium of seven Credit Unions, to help more than 20,000 families and hundreds of small businesses gain access to affordable credit. £700k is for Credit Unions to make affordable loans to individuals, keeping people out of the hands of the loan sharks.

Over three years, the investment will lead to lending of around £3m, because the Credit Unions will be able to recycle the money once loans start to be repaid.

But it’s vital that we also use co-operative principles to boost enterprise in poor communities. We shouldn’t just harness mutuality to ameliorate the symptoms of poverty; we must attack its root causes.

Liverpool is near the bottom of the league for business density. With relatively few large and medium-sized firms in the private sector and a reducing public sector, it is micro and small businesses that will create economic growth and jobs.

So £300k of the investment is for an innovative microfinancing initiative for business. It will provide bespoke business loans and credit to start-ups and existing microbusinesses for working capital and investment purposes. The consortium of Credit Unions will work closely with the Council’s business support service to provide joined-up support, not just access to finance. Projections show the initial £300,000 investment potentially growing to over £1m after it is recycled.

These pioneering initiatives will help mitigate the triple-whammy of rising unemployment, higher prices and cuts in welfare benefits.

Blue-sky co-operation

This is a really good, practical example of how co-operation can be used to help people access affordable finance.

I am looking to apply co-operative principles to get a good deal for local residents; I am in the process of working-up a proposal to bulk-buy utilities – such as gas and electric. The plan would be for local housing associations to come together and use the power of bulk purchasing to negotiate a market-leading deal from the suppliers.

This is co-operation in its purist form; people coming together to work together to get a better deal than they could themselves command. The idea of negotiating a bulk fuel discount for consumers has already been done in the Netherlands. The average saving to customers that have switched suppliers using the Which? website is £235 – so a bulk buyer’s discount has enormous potential to put significant sums of money into the pockets of the most deprived.

Active co-operation to deliver real results. And enough good ideas to keep Liverpool Co-operative councillors busy for the next few years.

Councillor Crofts joins Councillors Sharon Taylor, Duncan Enright and Chris Pemberthy on our panel, Campaigning Co-operative Councillors: How councillors can use co-operative values to make a difference for their community, 2 October at 7.30pm in Manchester Central, Exchange 10.