© The Co-operative Party Credit: Krzysztof Kseba

Can I start my remarks today by saying how fantastic it is to be with you at this year’s Co-operative Party Annual Conference. It is a great pleasure to be back with so many friends and valued colleagues, friends that have come from across the country to celebrate the work of this great party and the wider co-operative movement.

And, of course, this is not just any ordinary conference, this is a very special year. In October 1917 delegates came together in Westminster to found the Co-operative Party, an institution which has long outlived another political creation of that month!

And we gather here today to mark your achievement, to celebrate 100 years of progress – a century that has helped change Britain for the better.

From the homes we live in, to the businesses we run; this nation has been shaped, fundamentally, by the work done by this movement and this party. And talking about achievements, there are two people in particular that I want to pay tribute to today as we gather for this special anniversary.

Two people that have done so much for Wales and the co-operative movement over the last twenty years – Claire McCarthy and Karen Wilkie, two of the smartest – and two of the toughest – individuals I have ever come across. Two people that working together, and individually, have made an enormous contribution to fighting for social justice and co-operative values in Wales and across the UK.

Karen and Claire – thank you.

But there is one thing that I have noticed as I’ve walked around today and talked to members in the hall. Whilst lots have come to this years conference in order to celebrate past achievements, everybody has come to look forward.

The theme of this year’s conference is ‘Ideas to Change Britain.’ This party is doing what it always has done – challenging itself and challenging others to think hard about the future of our communities. To meet head-on the housing shortage, to think creatively about the future of social care; to think through new models of affordable childcare.

They are thinking through these problems not because they are easy, as someone once famously said, but because they are hard.

Challenges that need urgent answers.

Challenges that we are unwilling to postpone.

An approach fully in keeping with the traditions and the spirit of this great movement.

Earlier this year at Welsh Labour Conference, my good friend Alun Michael said that co-operation has always been at the heart of Labour politics, that it was a founding principle, not an optional add-on, and he is right. I’m proud that in Wales, the values and the influence of co-operative members and co-operative ideas is greater than ever.

At the last Assembly election we increased the strength of the co-operative group in the Senedd from nine to eleven, and at this year’s General Election we had to fight a real ‘backs to the wall’ campaign. I’m proud that we helped the likes of Stephen Doughty, Christina Rees and Geraint Davies get re-elected to Parliament to continue to fight for co-operative values of fairness and justice once again.

But of all these achievements, perhaps the one I’m proudest of most is that in Wales we’ve got Labour and Co-operative AMs in government turning great ideas into practical policies that change people’s lives for the better. Individuals that are delivering on those founding principles in government and making good on the hope and the promise of that very first meeting in Central Hall 100 years ago.

Now, as everyone here today will know, there is no silver bullet for the challenges we face in our communities. There is no single answer to the economic injustice that still plagues the lives of too many individuals and too many communities. Though they are crucial parts of the jigsaw, there is no apprenticeship programme, no new school building or no new funding stream that can, in and of itself, ‘solve’ the structural economic and social challenges facing our communities.

It is no use having a reliable, sustainable transport system if there are no jobs to go to at the end of the new rail line. It is no use – for either the community or the business – if a new firm locates to an area where individuals do not have the skills to access well-paid jobs. There will always be stunted economic growth if a regional economy is buoyant but young people cannot get on the housing ladder.

Achieving fair shares for all requires a co-ordinated response across government.

It requires those values of co-operative action to be built in from the start in every policy we develop as a government, and for fairness to be the organising principle around which every practical policy is developed. That is why last month we published ‘Prosperity for All’, a new national strategy to guide our work during this Assembly term. Building on the fantastic work of the Welsh Co-Operatives and Mutuals Commission, the plan is helping ensure that co-operative values are making a difference right across Welsh Government.

Creating good quality jobs rooted in the community has always been a strength of the co-operative movement, and I am proud of the record of the Welsh Government in supporting jobs and new opportunities across Wales.

Since 2011 the Welsh Government has supported 185,000 jobs in communities the length and breadth of Wales. Many of these have been created by helping innovative, co-operative businesses’ to set up and grow. During Social Saturday just yesterday, we were able to celebrate many of those successes.

Research published by the Wales Co-operative Centre in May 2017 estimated that social businesses are worth over £2.3bn to the Welsh economy, supporting over 40,000 jobs and volunteering opportunities for even more. Our £11m Social Business Wales programme is providing specialist business support to co-operatives and social enterprises. Through a partnership of the Wales Co-operative Centre and Business Wales we are giving tailored advice to new co-operatives and social enterprises, from funding support to procurement; succession planning to tendering.

But there are challenges ahead, both for the co-operative sector and for our economy.

Leaving the European Union is the most significant challenge of our age. Whilst lots of businesses in the co-operative sector may not export to the EU, many are deep-rooted in the supply chains of larger businesses that do. The growing view on the UK Government benches that no deal is a viable outcome is a deeply dangerous fallacy. Walking away from the talks would be a catastrophic political failure with dire economic and security consequences

No Deal is not a viable option for the Welsh economy and Welsh business- the damage to confidence and investment would hurt everyone.

In this critical period, it is vital that the UK Government and devolved administrations work together in genuine partnership to map out our collective future. Brexit must not undermine devolution, which is now a fundamental and permanent part of the UK constitution.

As a Welsh Government, we have called for deeper and more sustained co-operation between devolved administrations and the UK Government after our EU exit. A shared governance approach developed on the basis of agreement between the four governments. An approach that builds on the traditions of co-operation built up during the years of EU membership. An approach which ensures that powers to support locally owned businesses and co-operatives remain in Wales.

Supporting co-operative and social businesses across Wales to plan and prepare for these challenges and responding to what is to come is a major focus of our work over this Assembly term. Next week we will formally launch the new Development Bank of Wales. One of the important roles we have tasked the Bank to undertake through its new intelligence unit, is understanding where the gaps are in small business finance across Wales.

But in helping the co-operatives and mutual sector to grow and expand we need to be innovative in our approach.

In Wales we are taking the lead through our ‘Better Jobs Closer to Home’ programme, which is piloting new and innovative ways of utilising public spending and contracts to ensure that more good quality jobs are retained in our local communities. Through intelligent commissioning and progressive procurement we can strengthen supply chains and ensure more economic value stays in the local communities in which it is produced, whilst at the same time creating supported employment for those furthest from the labour market.

It’s here that the co-operative movement can play an important role in strengthening the regional economies of Wales, stimulating inclusive growth.

We are currently developing a new Economic Action Plan that will take forward much of this work. An approach based around strengthening the fundamentals of the Welsh economy. And as everyone knows, one of the foundations of any successful economy is its transport system.

When I talk to businesses and individuals about our economy, it’s the one issue that consistently gets raised with me. From the small company looking to expand to the individual looking for work; having a high quality, modern transport network part of an integrated public transport system is crucial to helping them get on. It is critical to helping our economy to grow.

As we approach the end of the current Wales and Borders Franchise and develop new plans for the Metro, we have a once in a generation opportunity to build a world class transport system that can support the transformation of our economy and our communities. A network that genuinely embodies the principles of co-operation, fairness and value that underpins the other public services people cherish – like the NHS. That is why we are developing a new model for the Wales and Borders rail network that prioritises service over profit, tat drives up standards on the network and improves the passenger experience.

This task isn’t easy as many of the powers in this area have still not been fully devolved to Wales, as is the case in other parts of the UK.

But these restraints won’t stop us acting creatively.

We have created Transport for Wales as a not-for-profit company that will design and let the next franchise and Metro. Transport for Wales will only let those contracts that it has to on a commercial basis, and where they do, the profits from those services will be at a capped margin with the excess reinvested back into the wider transport system.

Our aspiration is to secure the necessary powers to enable Transport for Wales to take on a wider range of transport functions, similar in nature to those that Transport for London manage for the public transport network in London. Over time, we hope to see many services, such as ticketing, marketing, station management and car parking operating in new and innovative ways under that new approach. That model, which is used by Transport for London, will allow us the flexibility to incorporate further devolved powers as they come. It will also allow more opportunities for innovative co-operative models to develop.

This agenda brings with it undoubted challenges but also fantastic opportunities to deliver on our wider aspirations for a better, multi-modal, integrated network that can serve the needs of public transport passengers, walkers and cyclists all over Wales.

And that innovation is being seen in other areas, too.

In housing the Welsh Labour Government has set a stretching target of creating 20,000 good quality affordable homes over the course of this Assembly term. Whilst co-operative housing currently forms only a relatively small part of our supply of affordable housing, as a government we are keen to build the capacity of the sector, ensuring that over the course of this Assembly term, it plays a bigger role in contributing to our new Welsh housing target.

To do this we provided nearly £2m of capital funding to support the ‘Co-operative Housing in Wales’ project, which through the work of the Wales Co-operative Centre and the superb team led by Derek Walker, has enabled three pilot projects in Cardiff, Newport and Carmarthenshire to develop new co-operative models of social rent, intermediate rent and shared ownership.

Earlier this year we awarded a further £150,000 to the Wales Co-operative Centre to boost the project further and provide better advice to developers and co-operative groups about scaling up their provision – that’s because we understand the power of co-operative values in Wales.

Earlier this year I attended the opening of the new head office of Merthyr Valley Homes. I was struck by the community-led mutual business model adopted by the Association, which was putting tenants and staff at the heart of their organisation.

Putting co-operative models to work where communities face the biggest challenges is nothing new for this party. From Robert Owen to the Rochdale Pioneers, it’s what has defined this great movement, and nowhere is that challenge greater than in social care.

Across the UK we know that the pressures on social care are increasing. There is an urgent need to see new innovation and new, more sustainable models of care be developed that can meet those pressures head on, and that is what we are doing in Wales.

Our new Social Services and Well-being Act places a duty on local authorities to promote the development of not for profit organisations to provide care, support carers, and to encourage preventative services, and those principles of co-production are set out in the Code of Practice. Co-operative arrangements for encouraging new models of care to develop are set out on the face of the Act, and through the Integrated Care Fun we have set aside £50m to promote alternative delivery models.

Of course, as those new models of public service delivery emerge, there is a role for Welsh Government in supporting community bodies that become more involved in the delivery of services, supporting those who take a greater responsibility for local assets.

That is why in the last Assembly term we issued guidance on how those transfers could be done in a sustainable way, and we want to take that work on further this term, developing a ‘Made in Wales’ approach to protecting local assets.

We know that the co-operative movement has over 170 years of practical experience in maintaining and developing assets owned and run by the communities in which they sit, and we want to work with you on that agenda over the next few years.

And of course much of this work will be supported in the longer term by encouraging more of our young people to think creatively about the role of co-operatives and mutuals in building stronger communities. Professor Graham Donaldson’s independent review of curriculum and assessment arrangements in Wales in 2015, ‘Successful Futures’, provides a clear vision of what our children and young people should ‘look like’ when they leave school.

Within the four new purposes of the new curriculum that we will begin to roll out from 2022 there are significant opportunities to take forward the ambitions outlined in the Co-operative and Mutuals Commission report.

On leaving statutory education the Donaldson review envisions our young people as:

  • Ambitious, capable learners, ready to learn throughout their lives
  • Enterprising, creative contributors, ready to play a full part in life and work
  • Ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world
  • Healthy, confident individuals, ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.

These values have been shaped by, and align with, the co-operative ethos. In supporting schools to shape the new curriculum there is an important opportunity for the co-operative movement to practically shape the minds of the future, and to translate co-operative ideas and values into positive, practical change.

And in that lies an important point – that a major strength of the co-operative movement over the last century has been the alliances it has built and the broad coalitions of support it has constructed for social change.

Just last term the redoubtable Labour & Co-operative AM Ann Jones marshalled cross-party, cross-community support for pioneering new backbench legislation to install Fire Sprinklers in every new home in Wales: progressive, forward-thinking legislation now being hailed as a model across the UK and Europe.

A change that will help save lives and shows the very best of that the co-operative movement can do to practically change peoples lives for the better.

The campaigning work of the Co-operative Party and the Co-operative Group in calling for new action in tackling modern slavery and supporting victims has hugely influenced our work in Wales. The Welsh Government’s Anti-Slavery coordinator and our Wales Anti-Slavery Leadership Group were introduced partly as a result of the work many in the co-operative movement have done over the last few years in arguing passionately for practical social change.

And there’s that word again – practical.

So much of what this great party and this great movement has done over the last century and more has quickly been absorbed into the mainstream. Ideas that have quickly become regarded as sensible and sound after they’ve been implemented,  but which would never have got off the ground without the brave campaigning of this party and this movement.

From supporting new models of childcare to promoting co-operative ideas in the classroom, there is a huge opportunity for the Co-operative Party and its members to work with us in the Welsh Government over the next few years, developing new and innovative service models that can answer the great challenges of our age.

And in doing so, they help us to hold Wales up as a beacon of good practice across the UK and across the world, and to show there is another way.

Conference, thank you for this opportunity to speak here today. By working together, we can build new strength into our communities, give new opportunities to those that need it, and re-build our communities around values of social justice and fairness.

I’m proud of the Co-operative achievements in Wales over the last century and confident that the next hundred will lead to many, many more.

Thank you.