Last Thursday I had the great privilege of being amongst a select group of cooperative leaders, including the ICA’s Dame Pauline Green, who witnessed UK Prime Minister, David Cameron admit to the failures of the capitalist model and announce long awaited reform of cooperative legislation.
Branding his vision ‘popular capitalism’ he briefed us, along with the UK media, in the rather understated ‘Westminster Hub,’ a mutual-owned venue favoured by the entrepreneurial crowd. He was keen to tackle the recent failures of capitalism, citing ‘more enterprise, more competition and more innovation’ as the way forward and emphasising that cooperatives were central to delivering this vision.
He spoke about everyone having the chance to participate and benefit from an authentic market economy and that capitalism will never be genuinely popular unless there are real opportunities for everyone to participate and benefit. It was gratifying to hear him praising the virtues of employee-owned cooperatives and highlighting the achievements of public sector workers who have created employee-led mutuals that now deliver more than one billion pounds worth of health services whilst at the same time improving those services.
However, his main praise was reserved for the UK’s cooperative movement, who with more than 12 million members he considered it to be a vital branch of popular capitalism.
But although praise is good to hear, the real value of his announcement came in the form of his pledge to consolidate the 17 or so pieces of out-dated legislation that affect the cooperative movement and consolidate them into one new Cooperatives Bill.
Improving the competitiveness of our members is why ICMIF exists; it’s what gets us all out of bed every morning. The removal of the shackles, complexity and costs that have been so burdensome to our UK cooperative members will enable them to compete on an equal footing with the rest of the market. This isn’t just good news – it’s monumental!
Of course I wasn’t alone in my enthusiasm. Welcoming the announcement, Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Co-operatives UK, added: “The new act is intended to make it as easy and natural to form a cooperative as any other form of business. We are delighted to see the Coalition taking action to put cooperative businesses on an equal footing and create a diverse economy.” He also congratulated the Prime Minister on being the first world leader to make a legislative change that supports the objectives of this year’s United Nations International Year of Co-operatives.
I left Westminster feeling optimistic. The UK cooperative movement and its wider partners have been talking to the UK Government for the last 10 years with one voice and one aim; to have a level playing field for cooperatives and other similar structures, and this is the culmination of all that hard work.
It is also recognition of the great work and reputation of our unique sector at the highest level of Government. It is now up to us in the UK to deliver on Cameron’s vision of a fairer more responsible form of popular capitalism.
As I sat on the train back to Manchester, I couldn’t help but ponder; could this be the start of a wave of legislative reform across the globe? Are we starting to reach that elusive ‘tipping point’? Will our members use the UK’s example as a platform to lobby their country’s government? Were the members listening at the ICMIF Conference when Peter Hunt from Mutuo presented the lobbying successes the UK had seen in recent years? I promised myself that I’d write a blog and ask your opinion. So what do you think? Can popular capitalism go global? How can ICMIF help? How can we all work together for the future we all deserve? Thank you, I hope that you will share your thoughts.