The need for the further transfer of relevant powers from Whitehall to local communities is clear. Aside from the government spin, to date there have been eight ‘deals’ signed between new combined city and county regions and central government. All, with the exception of Cornwall, encompass large urban areas.
These deals, each unique, have transferred additional powers and spending from central to local government, covering transport and infrastructure, health and social care, employment and skills, energy and environment, enterprise and growth, housing and planning.
But in the transfer of central government budgets and power to combined city and county regions, there is an opportunity for the growth of co-operation and for local people to have an increased say on the services which are delivered to them. We in the Co-operative movement must be ready seize these opportunities.
We have already begun to work with our members, Councillors and the trade union movement to develop a new platform. This work will culminate in the publication of a report on co-operation and city regions at this year’s conference in September.
For example we have already held an event in Manchester with Cllr Tony Lloyd, Ivan Lewis MP and Britta Werner (Co-operative UK), and Liverpool with Cllr Liam Robinson (Chair of Mersey Travel) Cllr Paul Brant, and Miatta Fahnbulleh (devolution policy advisor from Poleis).
The co-operative values of self-help, democracy and self-responsibility resonate with an effort that, on paper at least, is attempting to bring government decision-making closer to the people affected by those decisions.
Co-operative Party politicians locally are already working to embed co-operative values in the public services they provide to local communities.
- In South London, Pheonix Community Housing owns and manages more than 6,000 homes, and is the first housing association in London to use the Community Gateway approach that empowers tenants and leaseholders to have a central part in decision-making. Pheonix’s properties were transferred from Lewisham Council in a large-scale voluntary transfer in December 2007 following a positive ballot of all tenants.
- With support from the local Council, Plymouth Energy Community Renewables (a co-operative) will turn a former landfill site into a community solar far. The 7.5 hectare solar farm will produce enough energy for the national grid to supply 1,000 home, provide economic opportunities in the local area, and help tackle local fuel poverty.
But with £3.5bn of further public sector cuts announced in the latest budget, the financial pressures on the new combined authorities will be great. It is critical that enhanced powers for city regions are not a cloak for a new wave of privatisation and service cutbacks.
At this time of radical change in how our public services and democracy work, it is important that the Co-operative movement stick together to impress it values and principles onto the new settlements.