A Co-operative Recovery

Anneliese Dodds MP

Chair of the Labour Party


Anneliese Dodds is the Labour & Co-operative MP for Oxford East, and Chair of the Labour Party. She has been tasked with leading Labour’s policy review, Stronger Together, focusing on tangible goals to change people’s lives and take inspiration from the community spirit fostered during the pandemic.

It is my absolute pleasure to introduce this collection of essays. They represent the culmination of over six months of work as part of the Co-operative Recovery Partnership – listening to experts and activists from around the country and exploring policy solutions to the challenges we face today.

In a series of roundtables, I met food co-ops, community pubs, worker-owned technology companies, village shops, solar installers, co-working spaces, electric car clubs, architects, social care providers and many more, from every corner of the country. While the sectors and geographies represented may seem diverse, in fact they are united by a set of shared values, a shared belief that we are stronger together, and a shared aspiration for our country to be a fairer place.

Through co-operative and community ownership, the businesses and community organisations I met over the past few months have shown me that the most transformative changes are often those driven from the bottom up.

In my new role, as chair of Stronger Together, Labour’s roadmap to bring Britain together and build a future to be proud of, these ideas couldn’t be more relevant. As we rally together and begin setting out an exciting, hopeful vision for Britain under a Labour government, I want to be mindful of some of the recurring themes of the roundtables and examples I heard from. We talked a lot about trust, how working with communities rather than imposing solutions on them can help to build meaningful relationships. We discussed how co-operative models where employees have a stake and a say in their business can help to protect existing jobs and create new ones.

Through co-operative and community ownership, the businesses and community organisations I met over the past few months have shown me that the most transformative changes are often those driven from the bottom up.

And while we talked about some of the barriers to community and co-operative ownership, we focused on the tangible, transformational change happening now – using the tools already available and without waiting for Whitehall. In Dumfries, for example, the community were fed up of shops closing, buildings being boarded up and not being able to access the services they valued in their town centre. They organised – buying up the high street one building at a time through a community share offer, and breathing new life into it.

I met a member owner of Suma Wholefoods, a sustainable food company owned by its employees showing the difference it makes when people have a say and a stake in their workplace, and staff from the Co-op Group who are creating new apprenticeship programmes for underrepresented young people – tackling our jobs crisis and investing in skills.

And I met co-ops at the forefront of tackling our climate crisis too, like red co-operative ltd and the Carbon Co-op, retrofitting buildings and supporting households to reduce their carbon footprint. Shrub Co-op in Edinburgh is working with their community to create a world without waste, and the Teviot Electric Car Club helps reduce car ownership and emissions by providing affordable low carbon car hire.

From the skills crisis to the climate crisis, co-operatives like these are already helping us to rebuild our economy and communities, put under strain by a decade of Conservative government. Covid-19 has had a devastating effect – not only do we need to recover from the heartbreak and loss, but we need to try to rebuild a fairer economy which delivers good quality jobs, successfully decarbonises, and which is more resilient to future crises.

Any approach to our recovery from the crisis and any work to deliver a fairer, more secure future  must begin by facing up to why we have been hit harder, in many respects, than other countries. We need ambitious, transformative policies that are rooted in what matters to people in their daily lives and that repair the damage done by the Conservatives.

All too often our economic framework doesn’t reward responsible corporate behaviour either. Rather than incentivising and rewarding decisions which would yield larger financial gains in the long term, as well as tackling the climate crisis – like investing in green innovation, staff training and research – our system often rewards short term decisions in the pursuit of high executive pay and big shareholder dividends.

When economic decision-making rests with a narrow cohort of shareholders and company executives, profits are unsurprisingly redistributed to themselves at the expense of wage growth, the climate and the wider economy. Our legal system gives primacy to the interests of shareholders in company objectives and decision-making, entrenching this impatient shareholder model at the expense of other models that take a broader view.

What the past months of work with the Co-operative Recovery Partnership has clarified for me is how different this could be. There are businesses and community organisations all over the country already going against the grain – our co-operative movement was founded to do so. In Rochdale, in response to overpriced and poor-quality food, the original pioneers came together to create an alternative community-owned shop.

Co-operatives like this around the country demonstrate every day the difference that they can make. Collectively, they don’t just impact their own customers, workers and communities; they impact how our wider economy functions. By their very form, co-operatives widen ownership to include us all – and the owners of an economy determines in whose interests it operates. Economies characterised by a bigger co-operative sector are more equal. The region in Europe with the lowest socio-economic inequality between rich and poor is Emilia Romagna – where co-operatives generate close to 40% of GDP.

Our Stronger Together roadmap could not come at a more critical juncture. Through the power of community politics, we can make a real difference to people’s lives today, while we develop together the signature policy changes needed to achieve scale and enable communities to do even more. We don’t need to start over from scratch, as these local examples already offer us a model to learn from.

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