Delegates at the UK Society for Co-operative Studies annual conference joined a workshop on the role co-ops could play in the government’s devolution agenda.
John Fenwick, emeritus professor of public management at Newcastle Business School, gave a short presentation on devolution and co-operation in the north east of England.
He said one main problem of devolution and co-operation in the region was the uncertain approach of the central government. He argued that it was unclear where co-operatives sat within the Northern Powerhouse, an initiative designed to boost the power of cities in the north of England and encourage collaboration between them.
According to Prof Fenwick, another key question was defining the areas included.
“How northern is the north?,” he asked. “If the north is Manchester and Leeds, and the north east is the far north, where does that leave Scotland?”
Delegates also examined the responsibilities of elected mayors under devolution – and some were worried about the amount of power given to them.
“It is bad enough to see strong men who think they are leaders of the council,” said Graeme Watkins from the Central England Co-operative.
And Daniel Crowe, vice president of the Co-operative Group’s member council, stressed that it was important to have co-operators in such key positions. “There is potential for commissioning co-ops,” he said.
Ian Adderley, chair of UKSCS, said co-operatives must establish what they want from the state and how best to achieve it.
“In some areas it may be through an elected mayor, in others it may not,” he said. “Sometimes the mayor may have the power to achieve that.”
The structure did not matter as much if co-operatives lacked the support of regional politicians holding senior roles, he added.
He also warned that some co-ops and credit unions fail to meet people’s needs – but said secondary structures can help to provide back office support and expand the range of services provided.
Vivian Woodell, from the Midcounties Co-operative, argued that the elected mayor structure was “a hijacking concept of devolution”.
“So much focus is on one person, it leaves large parts of the country unable to benefit from devolution in rural areas,” he said.
Jan Myers, editor of the Journal of Co-operative Studies, also warned against the danger of co-ops and credit unions being used to meet political agendas.
Nick Matthews, board member of the Heart of England Society and chair of Co-operatives UK, said co-ops needed to enter new markets such as energy, childcare, and telecommunication.
“The potential for co-ops is in real economy, including horticulture and agriculture,” he said.
In this article
- Brand management
- Business models
- Central England
- Central England Co-operative
- Co-operatives UK
- Consumers' co-operative
- Daniel Crowe
- elected mayor
- England Society
- Heart of England Society
- Ian Adderley
- Jan Myers
- John Fenwick
- Midcounties Co-operative
- Newcastle Business School
- Nick Matthews
- Northern Powerhouse
- Social Issues
- The Co-operative brand
- UK Society
- United Kingdom
- vice president of the Co-operative Group
- Vivian Woodell
- United Kingdom
- Top Stories