Co-operatives can be “a lighthouse” in this time of political turbulence, said Gavin Shuker, Co-operative Party parliamentary chair, during Co-operatives Fortnight.
Mr Shuker added that as the country enters unknown territory following the result of last week’s EU referendum, the party will be working to ensure that the movement offers answers.
“Some time ago, I called the Co-operative Party a lighthouse, one able to point the way to a more co-operative and mutual future,” he said.
Our co-operative business model doesn’t just talk about uniting communities – it does so, in practical, tangible ways
“The light within that lighthouse comes from the co-operative movement – both here at home and abroad. Co-operatives Fortnight is a good opportunity to reflect upon a movement in the UK which bases itself on the values of self-help, self-
Mr Shuker pointed out that the “values and principles which guide and meld together our movement in the UK” should be held dear, and shouldn’t be forgotten.
“Too often, we’re forced to battle to prove that our model works, with questions asked of us that have not been asked of the tired old models which are seen as the ‘default’ in our economy,” he said.
“Our co-operative business model doesn’t just talk about uniting communities – it does so, in practical, tangible ways. From communities coming together to own local assets such as shops and pubs or community transport, to local people working together on progressive causes such as community renewable energy schemes or access to financial services via credit unions.”
The implications of Brexit – and how different outcomes would affect co-operatives – are still largely unknown. But Ian Snaith, consultant solicitor at DWF LLP, says some outcomes are certainly more preferable to others.
“Withdrawal from the European Union formally starts when our government notifies its withdrawal intention to the EU Council of Ministers under Art 50.2 of the Treaty on European Union,” he said. “The UK probably can’t be forced to do that, so the UK government can decide when to start the process.
“In my view the options set out below are in order of preference to benefit co-operative businesses and the UK.”
- “UK membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA) alongside Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway. That preserves the laws on free movement of goods, capital and workers and most of the other current EU Laws on the Single Market, e.g. quality standards for goods sold and the right to do business anywhere in the EEA. But the UK gets no law making role, MEP’s, Council of Ministers seat or right to appoint a Commissioner. It just has to enact all Single Market Laws (fax democracy) after a consultation through the EEA machinery. Agriculture and fisheries will be left to national policy.
- “Membership of EFTA without EEA membership (the Swiss Model).
- “A separately negotiated UK Association Agreement as enjoyed by Turkey and other states. That does not continue the free movement provisions but may involve trade without tariffs.
- “No special agreement and reliance on World Trade Organisation basic rules that apply to all International Trade.”
Where there is a chance that the co-operative model and the wider movement could be disadvantaged during the inevitable reshaping and negotiation, Mr Shuker says the Co-operative Party will be the first to work with others, including those in power, to “alleviate further impediments we might face”.
“As we enter unchartered waters following the result of last week’s referendum, I, the Co-operative Party and co-operators across the country will be ready to ensure that where our movement can offer answers, we do not sit on our hands,” he said.
“Our credit unions, our co-operative retail societies, our independent co-operatives – whether consumer or worker owned – are different and hold something unique. The wider policy debate would do well to examine why our diverse movement has been able to grow and thrive, even amidst 10 years of turmoil.
“So as we celebrate co-operatives in this fortnight we should remember why we celebrate and why we must remain united in the weeks and months to come. If we do that, we will remain the guiding light for those who want to discover a better way of doing business.”