This month’s budget provided a critical chance to address the economic challenges our country faces as we look to deal with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the Chancellor failed to rise to the occasion.

It was an opportunity for the Government to tackle the inequality which fuelled both the Covid-19 crisis and its economic aftermath, but instead they delivered a budget that neither delivers a fairer economy nor sets out a clear roadmap to recovery.

The Chancellor should have learned lessons from Labour and Co-operative Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds MP, who before the budget outlined how essential it is that we put people and communities at the centre of our recovery, and how alternative models of ownership like co-operatives were integral to doing just that.

Instead, despite contributing £38.2bn to the British economy, there was not a single mention of the co-operative sector in the budget. Some elements, such as the extension of Social Investment Tax Relief, were welcome, but more must be done if we are to properly unleash the power of our communities – such as supporting the Community Ownership Fund with the proper legislative and regulatory framework it needs to make a real difference.

Another matter championed by Anneliese but ignored by the Chancellor was the issue of Access to Cash. Millions of people across the UK still rely on coins and notes for the basics, but as bank branches and free cash machines recede from our high streets and cash transactions are increasingly refused during the pandemic, our transition to a cashless society has been accelerated.

Without action, we risk leaving so many elderly, isolated and vulnerable people behind, and Anneliese’s call for more to be done was echoed by our Parliamentary Chair Preet Kaur Gill MP, who asked our members to add their voice too. They did just that, and around 2,000 emails were sent to local MPs in support of our campaign to safeguard Access to Cash – a campaign that I know will continue in earnest.

And when it comes to campaigns, we recently proved once again just how effective we can be through our collective endeavour. Along with the Labour and Co-operative Shadow Environment Secretary Luke Pollard MP, the Party’s campaign to prevent the use of bee-killing pesticides drew over 22,000 signatures of support for their ban – a call which helped ensure they would not be used this year. This was a huge success and one I’m proud our Party came together to play a role in securing.

But it’s not a surprise, either. Because I’ve seen just what a difference we can make as a Party and movement. We see it with important campaigns like these – not just in Westminster but right across the country. We’ve heard it regularly from individuals and communities in our regional and national conferences, for instance, the last of which took place last weekend, where I was delighted to join our members in the South West and Scotland.

Over the course of our fantastic conferences we’ve been joined by well over 100 speakers and over 1,500 members who have come together to share ideas, knowledge, and their experiences of making a difference through our co-operative values and campaigns.

And as our election preparations continue for May where nearly 90 percent of the country will have a Co-operative candidate on the ballot, I know it’s that same difference our fantastic Co-operative councillors will be ready and waiting to make in their communities.

So whether it’s here in Westminster with our campaigns on safeguarding the environment or work on the Co-operative Recovery Partnership with the Shadow Treasury Team, to regions and nations where our fantastic conference series comes to an end but preparation for May’s elections continues apace with hundreds of Co-operative candidates, the Co-operative Party at all levels is making a difference where it counts.