Looking forward, but most importantly moving forward, is what the co-operative sector should be focussed on this year. Especially in political circles.
The fourth Ways Forward conference started some of that discussion last week with a high-profile speech from shadow chancellor John McDonnell with his commitment to grow co-operatives in a future Labour government.
Mr McDonnell also talked about a “right-to-own” policy for workers to own a stake in the organisation they work for. It’s a policy that was adopted by Ed Miliband when he was leader, and one that has been pushed consistently by the Co-operative Party.
Setting into motion his and Jeremy Corbyn’s future policies, Mr McDonnell told delegates at the Manchester conference that the economy is failing and the answer is all about fairness.
Fairness can be one word to perfectly sum up the principles that make co-ops. So it’s clear that co-operatives need to speak up and find sustainable solutions to help fix all parts of the economy.
The shadow chancellor believes that the principles of co-operation can be applied to all governmental policies. Stepping short of entirely backing co-op solutions. It’s up to the movement, and in particular the Co-operative Party and Co-operatives UK, to ensure that co-operative models are a part of the solution, rather than cherry picking values and principles.
As well as focussing on the themes of fairness and inequality, Mr McDonnell’s most spoken words were ‘local’, ‘economy’ and ‘work’.
Those two themes, and three words, are what the co-operative sector is all about. In May, we see the Scottish and Welsh elections, as well as local council, London Assembly/Mayor and police commissioner elections.
So it’s a good year for campaigning the co-operative voice – and ensuring co-operative solutions are heard at a grassroots level.
The Co-operative Party has kickstarted its election campaigning this week with the launch of its manifesto for Wales. There are over 30 individual proposals calling for all walks of Welsh life to be co-operativised – and it can be guaranteed that similar calls will be heard by the party in Scotland and for other elections.
Inside the manifesto, the main themes are focussed on empowering local communities. This can be achieved by supporting the development of new co-ops, which includes giving a community the right of first refusal of pubs, shops and community centres. Other ideas include getting local authorities on side by promoting mutuals and backing the development in new areas, such as health and education.
There are many parts of the economy that can be transformed through co-operation. Achieving good engagement with our politicians is one way of seeing this vision.