It would have been understandable had Wales Co-operative Party members taken the decision, given the extraordinary circumstances of Coronavirus, to postpone this year’s annual conference. I am glad they didn’t because though the immediate work of responding to Covid is not yet at an end, it is time to begin to look to the future – to the recovery.

To take the lessons and the new ideas that have come out of this crisis and to begin the work of re-building our economy, our public services and our public realm in a new and a stronger way.  One in which the co-operative movement in Wales has an important role to play.

In doing that work here in Wales we have a solid foundation on which to build. I’m proud of what the Welsh Government has done in recent years to take the fantastic work of the Welsh Co-operatives and Mutuals Commission to make real the values of co-operative action across every area of government – fair shares for all.

In social care we have legislated to support the development of not for profit providers and set up the Integrated Care Fund to promote alternative delivery models. In the foundational economy we have established a new £4.5m experimental fund to test new ideas and ways of working through more than 50 pilot projects that we hope to scale up within procurement.

In housing we are testing new models of co-operative homes and communities and in education we are using co-operative ideas to help shape an exciting new curriculum for the next generation of learners.

But it’s when times get tough that principles get really tested. And over the last few weeks I have been exceptionally proud that in Wales we have had Co-operative members of the Senedd in government turning co-operative principles into practical action.

From the work we have done ensuring that vital support is available for co-operative and social enterprise businesses through the crisis; in recognising the food retail sector as key workers eligible for education and childcare support or in making sure that no companies based in a tax haven get access to support through our Economic Resilience Fund – it is no coincidence that during this crisis it has been to ideas grounded in co-operative principles and campaigns that we have most readily turned.

But perhaps the true genius of the co-operative movement lies not only in the practical change it helps us achieve today, but also in the progressive vision it helps us set out for tomorrow. As we think forward to the Senedd elections in 2021 it is to that co-operative vision of tomorrow that we must again draw strength.

We must build on the excellent work done by the Wales Co-operative Centre to promote community wealth building; we must lean on the work of the People’s Railway campaign to reshape bus and rail transport and we must use the consultation work we have already done in Wales to give the force of law to communities wanting to protect assets of local value and significance for future generations.  In each area enshrining the principle that investments made by the community should see benefits shared by the community.

One need only look back at the last century of the Co-op Party’s work to see the profound and lasting impact co-operative ideas have played in progressive change here in Wales. And it is to that reservoir of ideas and values that we must again draw if are to re-think and re-cast the Wales of tomorrow in the face of this current moment of disruption and change. Drawing on the past to look forward to the future.

An approach all the more resonant in light of what coronavirus has shown us – the need to put fair shares back at the heart of our politics, our economy and our public policy. Fair shares for all.

From Robert Owen onwards this is what has hallmarked the co-operative movement – strong principle allied to practical action.  It is to that experience of the co-operative movement, rooted in people and place, that comes out so strongly in the excellent recent Co-op Party report, ‘Owning the Future’.

That excellent report makes the point that 68% of us do not want to lose the renewed sense of community spirit which has developed through the lockdown to end and that through the institutional embedding of co-operative ideas we can build a fairer, more sustainable economy.

That’s an idea I welcome and share. By working together we can build new strength and new solidarity into our communities, by giving new opportunities to those that need it, by re-building our communities around co-operative values of social justice and fairness, and through fair shares for all.