With Co-ops Fortnight underway, the Welsh Government is showing that in Wales, we have a Government that recognises the role for co-ops in promoting a sustainable, fair economy, and is willing to take action to help them.
In her statement on Wednesday, the Minister for Economy, Science, and Transport, Edwina Hart committed to accepting the recommendations in the Wales Co-operative & Mutuals Commission Report that fall within her portfolio. With a report that is imaginative and wide-ranging, that is a serious commitment.
Central to this will be greater support to enable to the Wales Co-operative Centre to help growth in new sectors, in succession planning, and in procurement. This recognises that successful co-operatives don’t all start from scratch – they can evolve from other businesses or from enterprises coming together for mutual benefit.
Increased representation on the Business Wales Strategic Board and the Entrepreneurship will give co-op models the influence appropriate to their size and contribution to the economy.
The Finance Minister, Jane Hutt AM, has also recognised the potential of public procurement to develop co-ops and mutuals and will look at establishing a pilot project to explore this.
John Griffiths AM, the Minister for Culture and Sport is encouraging local authorities to explore greater community ownership of facilities through asset transfer. Likewise in housing, where Carl Sargeant AM is working with community land trusts to increase the supply of co-operative housing.
Education was central to the Commission’s report, and rightly so. Co-operative models and values can thrive only if our next generation of Welsh entrepreneurs know and understand them. Labour & Co-operative AM Huw Lewis was the first to state that he will act on the report’s recommendations and work is already underway.
This is already a Welsh Government for co-operators to be proud of.
It is crucial however that we don’t rest on their laurels and that we recognise that the Commission’s report marks the beginning of a process, not the end. We need to be able to look back in one, five and ten years’ time and be proud of what has been achieved. To do that, there has to be a process to measure progress, to monitor success and failure in each area, and to make sure that it all fits together.
There is, as yet, no mechanism for measuring the size and scope of the co-operative movement in Wales, nor of its contribution to the economy or well-being of our people. Not knowing exactly where we started will make it a bit tricky to know how far we’ve come.
The Commission, led by Professor Andrew Davies, did a great job. What we need now is a low key scrutiny body, led by Co-operative AMs and other co-operators, to see that it bears fruit. Then we will know how far we have succeeded in growing our co-op sector, not for its own sake, but as a real contribution to a stronger, fairer, sustainable Welsh economy.