Rallying call from co-op councils to rebuild UK politics

The Co-operative Councils Innovation Network (CCIN) has called on local authorities to take action to reshape the political landscape. It wants them to “seize the moment to lead...

The Co-operative Councils Innovation Network (CCIN) has called on local authorities to take action to reshape the political landscape.

It wants them to “seize the moment to lead efforts to embed co-operative values and principles such as fairness, responsibility and co-production into the mainstream service offer to citizens”.

A new report, From Co-operative Councils to Co-operative Places, sets out network’s plan for the future, so local authorities can “shape and influence the political landscapes locally, regionally and nationally”.

CCIN chair Councillor Sharon Taylor

Cllr Sharon Taylor, chair of the CCIN and leader of Stevenage Council, said: “It means transforming the way we work as local councils, it means influencing our partners to create co-operative places and, most importantly it means empowering residents to play their part, be that in making decisions, delivering services, or supporting others in the community.”

The report says co-op councils should build five pillars into their plans, cutting across different sectors to create a set of “co-operative relationships”.

The five pillars are strategies for:

  • co-operative growth – growth strategies that blend local job creation with incentives for in-work progression, vocational learning and support for people and families furthest from the labour market;
  • place-based health – taking pressure off the NHS through health approaches that minimise clinical and unplanned interventions, and make health a social movement powered by communities;
  • human capital – mixing investment in people and civic identity to promote the ‘art of living’ in a place;
  • demand management – “flipping the starting point for service reforms and working from the citizen up” to “challenge and disrupt ways of working that entrench co-dependence between citizens and services”;
  • social capital – tackling isolation, loneliness and the marginalisation of some groups and individuals from leading productive and healthy lives, with the help of organisations such as banks and the Post Office.

“It is increasingly time for councils to be catalysts of place, working in equal partnership with local people to shape and strengthen communities in what can feel like an increasingly fragmenting and unpredictable political backdrop,” says the report, which draws on the evidence from two leading co-operative councils, Oldham and Sunderland.

Related: How a cash crisis spawned co-op model for local government

Cllr Jean Stretton, leader of Oldham Council, said: “The co-operative approach requires working in a radically different way that goes beyond classic models of public service reform.”

Existing policies highlighted in the report include a plan to make Leeds a NEET-free city (Not in Employment, Education or Training) through joined-up education, skills and in-work training policies, by matching of opportunities to marginalised communities, and encouraging community housing innovations.

Other successes include Brent Council’s use of housing adaptations to reduce demand for adult social care services; and Ealing Council’s work on using behavioural insight to streamline pathways between homelessness and housing.

The report warns such efforts are vital because “co-operative councils can no longer look to national politics or Whitehall policymakers for answers”.

It adds: “Leaders within the co-operative council movement need to be bold. The pace of change in our economy, society and policy context mean that the old model of project-by-project working will not carry the weight of the changes we expect from it or achieve the co-operative ripple we want to achieve across place, people and public service.”

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