The Commission posed a number of questions for the movement to respond to – all very pertinent to how the Welsh Government could help co-ops – which it should. What these may have caused some to overlook however is the key question: – what can co-ops do for Wales?
Co-ops have a role in helping to reshape the Welsh economy. They not only create wealth, they redistribute it more equitably and retain it in the local community.
The size of the co-operative movement in Wales and its contribution to the economy are often underestimated. Periodically, surveys have been commissioned to assess the size of the co-operative economy in Wales. However, such snap-shots lose their value after a very short period of time. We believe that co-operative development would be better served by identifying co-operative businesses within each sector in the official on-going statistics produced by Stats Wales and the ONS. This is not an easy thing for them to do, because co-ops and mutuals exist in pretty much every part of the Welsh economy. But this is exactly why it has to be done. Measurement is important, to show where the sectors are for growth and to measure the effects of government or other intervention. It’s no good knowing where we want to be if don’t know where we are, which direction we are going, or how fast.
Not only is the size of the co-op movement hard to measure, so is it’s true value. The huge benefits to the local economy that Swansea City’s Premier League status has brought are only just beginning to be quantified. It is widely acknowledged that this current success can be traced to the actions of the Supporters Trust in helping to save the club from extinction over ten years ago. Similarly, the actions of the miners in creating a workers’ co-operative to save Tower colliery not only saved their own jobs, but contributed to the economic regeneration of the local area for a number of years.
But, as Einstein apparently said, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. And GDP cannot be the measure of all things co-operative. Co-operatives don’t only redistribute wealth in an equitable way – they also spread power across the community to workers, to consumers and to service users. And a profitable business that only generates wealth for a small number of owners or shareholders – who may not even be based in Wales – and pays its employees poorly or on short-term contracts, cannot be considered a success for the Welsh economy.
Having said that, we have answered the questions posed, and you can find our full response here (PDF).