Well our first President's Blog certainly caused interest and provoked much telephone and email traffic which was all positive. This was really heartening to us but to a person no one was willing for their views and responses to be added to the Blog. I understand this because for many of us, particularly my generation, presenting yourself and your values and ideas to an unseen and potentially limitless number of readers can be quite a threatening experience. Not a bit like standing in front of a class of young people or students where you have a visible audience and where you can assess the impact of every word. So please be brave and seize the opportunity to either respond to ideas in the Blog or contribute to the Blog on matters that interest you and are relevant to potential co-operative solutions for the effective delivery of education, training and social regeneration. Don't be afraid to think outside the box.
I suspect that once we are into the October Spending Review and all that this will mean it will be suggested to us by the Coalition Government that the solutions and responses must be local ones. This after all will be consistent with the concept of David Cameron's Big Society and it will present us with an opportunity to be both innovative and creative. There will be no prizes for signing up for the victim culture and, candidly, it will test our belief in the power of co-operative structures and co-operative values and principles to deliver the goods. The jury is out on how prepared local authorities will be to lead and co-ordinate the construction of the local response to the Big Society. It will take a cultural shift in the attitude and behaviour of many local authority officers and elected members who have been steeped for a long time in a command style of management. We shall see and certainly within the Robert Owen Group we welcome working closely with local authorities in a genuinely co-operative approach to supporting Our People and Our Communities.
On 10th, 11th and 12th September I was invited by the South West Region of the Co-operative Group to be a delegate to the Co-operative Party Conference in Cardiff. This was a first for me and I adopted a very much watch and see approach as a procession of former Government Ministers spoke to the Conference. Without sharing my prejudices suffice it to say that I was really impressed with Harriet Harman and what she had to say in a clear and unequivocal fashion. The discussions were intense on the floor of Conference and in the fringe meetings. Probably the one debate that caught my eye was the Fringe Meeting on Land Value Tax (LVT). Recent articles by respected commentators such as Polly Toynbee, Larry Elliot, Ashley Seager, Sir Samuel Brittan and Martin Wolf on radical land and taxation reform were quoted. Delegates were clear that if we aspire to create a more just and socially inclusive society in which the burden of taxation and poverty no longer falls on the poorest, then Land Value Tax is an idea whose time must surely have come. I was interested to note that the Co-operative Party and the Green Party are the only UK parties to adopt this position so far. The ongoing global financial crisis and the search for more equitable housing policies with a responsible and publicly accountable banking system has moved LVT from the radical fringe to the mainstream of debate in the serious press - The Times, The Guardian, The Financial Times and the Spectator with endorsement from Compass and some of the trade unions. If adopted LVT could make a real contribution to the local delivery of the Big Society. "It is the taking by the community, for the community, of the value that is the creation of the community." - Henry George, Progress & Poverty, 1879.
My thoughts on the way home on the train from Conference turned to 2012 and the United Nations Year of the Co-operative. Within the Robert Owen Group we will have to give much thought to our collective contribution and I am sure that our schools and our teachers will want to be involved in the activities. The President's Committee at the first meeting of the new academic year on 30th September will start the planning process but what an ideal opportunity to target projects and events so that they show how the Big Society can be delivered in co-operative ways. Kofi Annan gives us a perfect steer:
"The co-operative movement is one of the largest organised segments of civil society, and plays a crucial role across a wide spectrum of human aspiration and need. Co-operatives provide vital health, housing and banking services; they promote education and gender equality; they protect the environment and workers' rights. Through these and a range of other activities, they help people in more than a hundred countries better their lives and those in their communities." - United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan
Of course our daily task within the Robert Owen Group, whilst being mindful of the big international co-operative picture, is to make sure that our operational delivery is truly co-operative and effective. In the last two weeks I have been encouraged by staff reports on the enthusiasm and quality of our newly enrolled trainee teachers who have signed up to "share the benefits of teacher training with a co-operative difference." Our Vision & Service Delivery Plan 2010-2011 and our Annual Report 2009-2010 are now out in the public domain as one high quality and impressive document. The new extensions to our Robert Owen Centre for Higher Education on the Bromyard site are nearly completed, the Robert Owen Foundation has been formed as a registered charity to lead the Group and our extremely able staff have been joined by some new faces to replace colleagues who have recently retired and to strengthen our staff team. There are exciting proposals for the President's Committee to consider on 30th September and the future looks co-operative.
President of the Robert Owen Group