The government’s devolution agenda must go beyond transferring power to local councils by empowering local communities, according to a report launched by the Co-operative Party.
Titled By Us, For Us: a co-operative agenda for enhanced city regions, the study argues that newly-created metro mayors and combined city authorities must use their new powers to further devolve decision-making and ownership to the local level. To achieve this, the report proposes co-operative approaches to policy areas such as energy, transport, social care and banking.
The party believes the co-operative enterprise model would give local people real power over services and the economy in their area.
Introducing the report, James Scott, the Co-operative Party’s policy officer, explained: “We started the report on the premise that newly established combined authorities represent a huge opportunity for regional civil leadership to change the way the economy and public services work. An opportunity, which should be aspirational, because the powers given to these authorities is quite limited, the money is limited.”
The report calls for communities to play a leading role in driving local economic priorities, including through the development of employee and customer-owned co-operative businesses. In addition, the paper suggests greater passenger involvement in the procurement and delivery of local bus services, particularly by expanding the role of not-for-profit and community run bus operators.
In terms of energy policies, the report proposes boosting community energy co-operatives to reduce fuel bills and increase competition within the market.
Care is another aspect analysed in the report. The study highlights that care workers and recipients, as well as the wider community, should be involved in commissioning local care providers.
The report’s findings were explored on 12 November at a national conference in Manchester, which brought together the Co-operative Party’s local councillors. The conference featured a speech by Labour’s Manchester Metro Mayor candidate, Andy Burnham MP.
Speaking at the conference, Mr Burnham called for more devolution and said that old politics seemed “broken”. By this he means the idea that apolitical system can be based around Washington, Brussels or Westminster, with decisions overly influenced by big businesses.
“Devolution does offer the solutions. It will be what we make it. We have to make it a revolution in our politics and smash the London centric approach,” he said.
Shadow Local Government Minister Jim McMahon MP also attended the conference. Mr McMahon is a former council leader of Oldham and a keen advocate of devolution.
He writes in the report’s foreword: “When power is passed simply from Whitehall to the Town Hall without a real community stake in this new settlement, we miss an opportunity. This important report from the Co-operative Party helps us to understand how devolution can be used to level the playing field of our democracy, giving people a voice, a stake and a say in the way their society is organised.”
Speaking in advance of the launch, Co-operative Party general secretary Claire McCarthy said: “Co-operative councillors have been at the forefront of innovation in local government in recent years. They have shown how relevant co-operative approaches are to meeting the challenges facing families and communities in their area. Cities and regions now have the chance to build strong local economies and communities, and driving power down to people is the way to achieve that.”