Co-operatives and a co-operative approach to local government can make a real difference to how services are delivered said Scottish Political Officer, Richard McCready. Richard was speaking at the annual Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) Conference about giving leadership by sharing power
Co-operatives are part of a world wide movement, with strong roots in Scotland and the UK.
The first co-operative for which records exist is the Fenwick Weavers in Ayrshire in the 1760s. The Fenwick Weavers used their own power to secure their employment and sustain their families something local authorities would support in the twenty-first century.
There has been a co-operative store on the Main Street in Lennoxtown in East Dunbartonshire since 1812. Famously, the father of modern co-operation Robert Owen out some of his ideals into practice at New Lanark. At the start of the 20th Century it was involvement in the co-operative movement that led Mary Barbour on the path to Glasgow City Chambers as one of the first female councillors and eventually one of the first female Bailies.
Co-operatives are defined by the International Co-operative Alliance by their Co-operative Values and Principles. The values are self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. The principles are Voluntary & Open Membership, Democratic Member Control, Member Economic Participation, Autonomy & Independence, Education, Training and Information, co-operation among co-operatives and finally concern for the community.
There isn’t a lot to disagree with there for local government, but I suppose a simpler way of explaining a co-operative approach in local government is as Councillor Andrew Burns from Edinburgh always says ‘It is about doing things with people rather than to people.’
We all know that local government budgets are under threat and that we are all looking for different ways of doing things. Some of that is through a financial imperative and some of it is as a result of legislation like the Community Empowerment Act.
I would argue that supporting co-operatives in local communities is a good way of dealing with these policy drivers but I would also say that in my opinion it is also the right thing to do.
The Co-operative Councils Innovation Network, a non-party political organisation, is promoting co-operative policies in councils.
There are over twenty councils which are members across Britain and in Scotland Edinburgh and Glasgow, are members.
I just want to look at a few examples of doing things differently as a result of having a co-operative approach. I want to stress that whilst I would like an economy which has a bigger element which is legally co-operatives I am also saying that there is an approach which includes the views of consumers or local people or even the electorate as we would put it more in service
Glasgow has promoted co-operative enterprises. Making sure that they can be supported by the council’s economic development staff. One example of that is Bala Sports. I should at this point declare an interest in that I am a Director of Bala Sports Fairtrade Co-operative. Bala Sports sell Fairtrade sports balls, mostly footballs at this stage. In the UK under 1% of sports goods are Fairtrade and I am sure that many of you will have seen problems created by sports goods production.
These Fairtrade balls were used in the Homeless World Cup in Glasgow in the summer. The first time that Fairtrade goods had been used in an international football tournament. Why aren’t they used more in competitions? But a challenge for us many of us from areas with Fairtrade status is how many Fairtrade footballs or other sports goods are being used in our schools or our sports centres. Leisure & Culture Dundee of which I am a trustee has been trialling Fairtrade footballs with favourable results. Perhaps that is something that we could all do.
Edinburgh has focussed on a number of things and there are people here who could speak with more authority than me on what Edinburgh has done.
Edinburgh Community Solar Co-operative is an example of the approach in Edinburgh. Delivering a formal co-operative but which goes some way to dealing with the environmental challenges we face.
Other ideas include Glasgow’s Starter for 10 scheme to support Credit Unions financial co-operatives by giving every first year pupil a £10 deposit in a credit union.
An example of the co-operative approach is being open to consultation. Listening to local people’s views about budget setting priorities is a way of doing things with people rather than to people.
Some outsourcing to co-operatives or co-operative-like organisations might save councils money but that should not be the driver behind such policies instead the driver has to be about empowering local people.
I think that councils across Scotland no matter what their political make-up should be looking to deliver co-operative councils. We need to look at ways of empowering local people and giving them a say in how services are run and also in ensuring that what we are responsible for meets their needs.
We should be about delivering services for people.