If it is true that necessity is the mother of invention, then we should thank our lucky stars that the co-operative movement is always at hand in times of financial crisis.
This Assembly term, 2011-2016, will be remembered for how we as a Welsh Government had to tackle the biggest ever cut to our budget – over £1bn or nearly 10% of our spending power. At the same time, we were passed responsibility for Council Tax Benefit, without the full budget, and welfare changes have left Welsh households worse off by £459 a year. These have been tough times, but it has also been a time when the Co-operative Party, and the solutions it has offered, has once again come to the fore.
Starting with the establishment of the Co-ops and Mutuals Commission, we have sought to promote and introduce co-operative solutions across a range of portfolio areas in government. We have accepted the recommendations from the Commission and we’re in the process of taking these forward. This work will build on our very many existing commitments. In Wales, we take our role as the world’s first Fair Trade nation very seriously.
One of our bigger commitments is to provide core funding for the Wales Co-operative Centre to develop co-operatives, credit unions and other mutual organisations in Wales. Working with the Centre, we have also recently provided £5 million for the Social Business Wales project, which has also been backed by over £6 million of EU funds.
The project will provide specialist support for some 500 social businesses, including co-operatives, employee-owned companies and social enterprises.
We also continue to support and promote credit unions as an ethical and responsible lending alternative to those who would be otherwise financially excluded.
There have been exciting developments in housing too. Our Housing Act has lifted the ban on fully mutual co-operatives from granting assured tenancies and we are proud to be creating a better environment for fully mutual housing co-operatives to exist, allowing them to develop more robustly and independently. We have invested in three pilot co-operative housing projects, which are progressing well. They will deliver a number of new co-op homes for rent and part ownership in both urban and rural parts of Wales, and should be a model for future development.
On transport – we have just launched our consultation on the future of rail in Wales, and we’ve established “Transport for Wales”. Our not-for-dividend company will deliver the next Wales and Borders franchise as a modern high quality service, contributing to an integrated public transport system across Wales. Our vision is to see a not-for-dividend model with a strong connection to the communities it serves. The Co-operative campaign for a People’s Railway for Wales provides us with a strong basis from which to work.
Whilst we maintain that public services are best delivered by public servants where possible, we do advocate co-operative and mutuals as the best alternative to ceasing, or privatising services. Many new models of delivery are already being developed and rolled out across Wales and we are helping to ensure that they are appropriate, sustainable and have the interests of citizens and the workforce at their heart. We are also doing more to promote the practical support available to public service organisations, their workforce, citizens and communities in making decisions about how services should be designed and delivered.
As Minister for Public Services, Leighton Andrews has worked with co-operative councils in England, speaking to leaders of Plymouth and Lambeth councils, so that we can learn from their experiences. These relationships helped inform our Local Government White Papers and particularly the Draft Local Government Bill published in late 2015, which focused on the development of activist councils with stronger links to their communities and workforces.
As we continuously improve our education system in Wales, we seek to actively promote co-operative working between all parts of the education system in Wales. We have invited the Co-operative College to be a member of the Strategic Stakeholder Group helping to develop the new Curriculum for Wales and are working closely with them to develop the four purposes of the new curriculum, one of which is to support our young people to be ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world. We are also examining new models for our Teacher Supply system in Wales, including looking at the benefits of a co-operative model.
Giving a real say in how we develop our curriculum and the future of education in Wales is perhaps the clearest evidence of our commitment to the co-op movement. A future Welsh Labour Government is going to keep co-operative values at the heart of our administration, and we’ll make no apology for continuing to raid the ideas factory that is the Co-operative Party.
- The National Assembly for Wales was established by the Government of Wales Act 1998 following a referendum in 1997 on devolution for Wales, and has 60 elected Assembly Members (AMs).
- The new Scottish Parliament was also convened following a devolution referendum in 1997, by the Scotland Act 1998. It comprises 129 elected Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs).
- The Northern Ireland Assembly comprises 108 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and was created under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (at the same time as the North/South Ministerial Council with the Republic of Ireland).
- Elections for each body took place every four years, but in 2015 this clashed with the UK general election. Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish elections were postponed to May 2016, and will now take place every five years.
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