The vision set out by the Welsh Co-operatives and Mutuals Commission today is a bold and exciting one. Professor Andrew Davies and his Commissioners have set their sights high – to a Wales where co-operative ways of doing business are the norm, not the exception. A Wales whose ‘economy, society and communities are transformed’ by a step change in the scale and impact of co-operative endeavour.
As a proud Labour/Co-operative Assembly Member I wholly endorse the scale of this vision and share the view that the co-operative movement and ideal has so much to offer Wales’ future.
But the report is also challenging. It highlights that whilst the potential is considerable, the scale of the challenge is huge. Despite Wales’ long history of co-operation – not least the pioneering work of the Wales Co-operative Centre and the long tradition of an active Co-operative Party – the Commission argues that the sector remains under-developed with a pressing need to reach ‘critical, self-sustaining mass’.
There are many ideas contained in the report that can, and no doubt will, contribute to this step-change but as Education Minister in the Welsh Government it is the proposals for putting co-operative values at the heart of our education system that are of particular interest to me.
The Commission make the compelling argument that co-operative values and principles and the skills of co-operation should be embedded in the Welsh education system. In addition, the Commission proposes that despite the very real differences in the way that schools are organised at a local level in Wales, we can learn from the experience of the flourishing co-operative schools sector in England. The Commission is right that any move to create co-operative governance structures for Welsh schools must be driven by the schools and communities – not from Cardiff Bay – but clearly the potential is huge.
The Commission has now completed its work and the baton now passes to our Labour/Co-operative Government in the Assembly to take this forward and make it a reality. As we do this we will be demonstrating – yet again – the difference between our values and those of the Conservative-led government in Westminster. The Coalition, whose idea of employee ownership involves employees trading their employment rights for shares in their company.