The British co-operative movement has a long and proud tradition of supporting working people to access affordable finance. The sector continues to play an invaluable role in promoting financial responsibility and resilience among their members.

But under the Conservatives, the sector has been held back. This is because credit unions, building societies and co-operative banks are working within an outdated regulatory regime – leaving them unable to compete on a level playing field with standard providers.

The Financial Services and Markets Bill was an opportunity for the Government to unleash the full potential of co-operative finance.

Outside of the EU, the UK has greater freedom to shape the rules governing co-operatively run financial services and to give the sector the flexibility it needs to grow.

Instead, while the Bill did contain some long overdue provisions such as enabling credit unions to offer a wider range of products, the Conservatives failed to offer an ambitious vision for the sector.

As Shadow City Minister, I worked with the Co-operative Party to table amendments to the Bill which would require the regulators – the FCA and PRA – to report on how they have considered mutual and co-operative business models.

The FCA’s most recent annual report includes not one mention of the needs of co-operatives, mutuals, building societies or credit unions. While in the latest PRA annual report building societies are just lumped in with standard banks.

Every single co-operative and mutual business leader I have spoken to – from Nationwide to the firms represented by the BSA – has called for the regulators to report separately on the specific needs of their sector.

Despite this, the Conservatives chose to vote down our proposals. While my Labour colleagues will attempt to amend the Bill in the House of Lords, it’s clear that this Conservative Government will not provide the regulatory reform that the sector needs to thrive.

With the right support, co-operative financial firms have the potential to provide new ideas and solutions to many of the crises and challenges we face as a country, such as the cost-of-living crisis or adapting to climate change.

That’s why Labour has committed to doubling the size of the co-operative and mutual sector when in government.

The Labour Party and the co-operative movement share a commitment to building a society in which power and wealth are fairly shared. Together we can unleash the power of co-operative finance, and build a stronger and fairer Britain outside of the EU.

This article featured in the Spring/Summer 2023 addition of the Co-operative Party’s member magazine, the Pioneer.