Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister for International Trade 25th September 2014 Blog Share Tweet The Co-operative movement has been through one of its toughest years. The Co-op Bank in crisis and the wider Group in trouble as a result , intense media scrutiny, and then an acrimonious and difficult reform debate There is no doubt those in charge let down customers and the wider Co-operative movement. There was both management failure and a failure by elected members too. Such failures demanded reform, and whilst there’s hard work to be done, the Co-operative Group is on a journey back to healthier future. At the same time, the almost 100 year old relationship between the Labour Party and the Co-operative Party was attacked too. Yet working together, our two parties have real achievements and much to be proud of. Together, we built the NHS and the welfare state, championing the needs of ordinary people. It’s a partnership that has never been more needed. Some on the right, and one or two on the left too, have gloried in the Co-op Group’s troubles, happy to peddle the notion that ordinary people can’t run things. That its only highly paid private sector executives or the man in Whitehall who can. Yet across the wider Co-op movement profits are up, membership is rising and together there has been a 20% increase in the size and strength of the Co-op movement in Britain since the financial crisis. I have always believed in the power of people to create and lead businesses in the interests of their communities; and to ensure the services they provide are shaped around the needs of their users, not other vested interests. There is nothing more powerful to stop the arrogance of the few, ignoring the needs of the many, than giving ordinary people the power to shape and run their own services. As Ed has rightly said, there are too many unaccountable monopolies and unchallenged vested interests in our economy and our society. Banks, energy and other utility companies, train operators, the big outsourcing companies who dominate public contracts. It doesn’t have to be this way, and it isn’t in other countries. In Germany and the United States, big energy companies face sustained competition from local power, from community owned energy co-operatives. Across Northern Europe, co-operative and mutual finance institutions challenge the dominance of purely private sector led banks, while in America and Australia powerful credit unions and community banks have grown up to fill the gaping holes in traditional bank lending. Navy Federal for example – run by its customers – American soldiers, sailors and their families chooses its own senior bankers. It has 4 million members, and over $55 billion in assets. And offers some of the cheapest and most flexible financial services on offer in the US. So why can’t we have a military credit union for soldiers here in the UK too? The Co-op Party will always be the voice demanding that there’s more power for ordinary people to have their voice heard. Why can’t those living in our communities? Why can’t my neighbours? Why can’t you have a stronger say in the runing of the services we depend on the most? It’s time we put the public back into public services. We need to back the Bill to stop the privatisation of the NHS, but we need to go further and overhaul the way the NHS is run too. Hospitals and Clinical Commissioning Groups too often do not give the views local people enough attention. The voice of patients or potential patients isn’t heard loudly enough. We need to treble the membership of credit unions, boost community banks, strengthen mutual building societies and give consumers greater rights when they are putting their money with UK pensions and saving firms. The Co-operative Party has a long and proud tradition as the voice of consumers. Legislation designed by Co-op MPs in the 1960s, passed under Labour governments, still forms the basis of modern consumer protection law. The Trade Descriptions Act and the Weights and Measures Act were both championed first by Co-op MPs. But a powerful Consumer Ombudsman able to win compensation when customers are ripped off, challenge bad behaviour and demand action by parliament is long overdue. And there is no area more in need of consumer power than our national game; football, too often run not in the interests of the fans. But rather the wealthy individuals and huge corporations who own our football clubs. If England, never mind Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, are to be a force again at World Cups the voice of fans needs to be heard in the boardrooms of the Premier League. And more of the TV income these fans generate should be invested in grassroots sport, instead of just huge salaries and grotesque transfer fees. Today it is still Co-op (and Labour) MPs like Stella Creasy championing consumer rights and leading a crackdown on payday lenders. It’s Co-operative MP’s like Tom Greatrex and Jonathan Reynolds leading the charge for more rights for energy consumers. Meg Munn pushing a greater say for parents, staff and communities through more Co-operative schools. These are just some of our excellent MPs, and peers. But we miss Jim Dobbin – a quiet, lovely man and a great Co-operative MP, champion for local enterprise partnerships to do more for co-operation. We have some great candidates coming through: Sarah Owen in Hastings, Andrew Pakes in Milton Keynes, Anna Turley in Redcar. And many others. We are heading for 40 Co-operative MPs in the Parliamentary Labour Party. The voice of the consumer. The champion of more power for ordinary people. Your closest friend. With you to the election and beyond. It’s a pleasure to bring you greetings from the Co-operative Party. Thank you. Enjoy the rest of your conference.