I can thoroughly recommend the sausage rolls at the Column Bakery in Devonport, Plymouth. Not just because they taste good, but you also get a taste of one of the many social enterprises, co-operatives and collaborations that have sprung up over the city under the Labour and Co-operative Council.
The co-operative ethos of Plymouth now is the normal way of working since Labour won on its manifesto pledge in 2012, to make Plymouth a co-operative council. These fundamental changes don’t happen overnight, it has been through determined effort over a number of years including a dedicated Cabinet Member for Co-operatives, Housing and Community Safety.
The key question on the lips of other Co-operative Councillors is how? How have Plymouth been able to achieve such change in the last four years?
A significant factor is the leadership provided by Council Leader Tudor Evans and Cabinet Member Chris Penberthy. Council officers appreciate their clear vision for Plymouth. It is bold, their idea of a Co-operative Council is clear and fundamentally changes how the council works. They embedded the principles right from the start when the put together the council’s corporate plan.
The focus on collaboration and social purpose is evident through numerous projects in the city. Members of Plymouth Energy Community (PEC) shared their experience of becoming an energy co-operative. They took over a difficult piece of land within a Ministry of Defence blast zone, and using a loan from the council built a solar farm in Ernesettle.
In spite of the governments cuts to tax reliefs for community energy, the share issue will start in a few weeks, so the local community can invest and own a key resource, as well as benefiting from the surplus profit which will be channelled in to local work tackling fuel poverty. Part of the success has been that the council stepped back and enabled the community to take the lead; which is often a difficult thing in the risk averse culture of local government.
By developing an ethos of collaboration and fostering a co-operative commonwealth, solutions are easier to find, barriers are easier to break down.
Looking forward, the Labour and Co-operative Council wants to further develop its work with enterprise and community economic development and has a manifesto pledge to grow community energy. However, a Co-operative Council doesn’t happen without a Labour and Co-operative victory – which is why we need to win in Plymouth this week.