Election 2017: A wishlist from social business leaders

Sector body Co-operatives UK has drawn up a list of policy asks for all political parties, while Locality, the EOA and Wales Co-op Centre also have a wishlists

In the run-up to the election, politicians are united in the wish for the UK to have a more inclusive economy.

Co-operatives have a bold and pragmatic vision for what a genuinely inclusive economy would look like, according to sector body Co-operatives UK. It is a business model where more people share ownership, decision-making and wealth, built on the powerful combination of pragmatism and solidarity.

In a message to all political parties, it has focused its policy asks in four key areas to bring the inclusive economy to life.

1 Help inclusive businesses thrive by ensuring co-operative options are firmly embedded in UK business policy, specifically by:

  • Providing official recognition of co-ops as an inclusive business model
  • Agreeing on a roadmap for policy development in Whitehall aimed at making co-op options more user-friendly, removing unnecessary red tape faced by smaller co-ops and allowing co-operative societies to adopt a statutory asset lock if they choose

2 Do more to help workers gain greater ownership and control of their livelihoods by:

  • Helping us develop a Co-operative Entrepreneurs’ Programme to augment existing start-up support so people can explore their co-op options, including when they are in or transitioning to self-employment, perhaps by redirecting spending away from tax breaks for executive shareholders (Company Share Option Plans and Enterprise Management Incentive)
  • Catalysing private, social and community investment in employee buyouts as a route for planned business succession, to ensure jobs, wealth and decision-making are retained locally, perhaps by using some money redirected away from tax breaks for executive shareholders to establish a co-investment fund
  • Being bolder in Corporate Governance Reform on company purpose and reporting, pay ratios, employee representation and profit sharing, by adapting what already works in co-ops

Related: What policies will the Co-op Party take into the campaign?

3 Make sure communities have the right tools to deal with the challenges they face together by:

  • Tweaking rules and incentives to maximise the opportunities for ordinary people to benefit from ownership of local assets and enterprise through Community Shares
  • Enabling communities everywhere to create and crucially keep more wealth locally by promoting Community Economic Development, a place-based approach focused on the needs and capacities of local people
  • Ensuring energy and environmental policy empowers communities to take action and meet their aspirations in areas like local energy supply, storage and demand management, and retrofitting homes    
  • Supporting user and community ownership of enterprises providing public services

Related: What can co-ops expect from the next government?

4  Encourage small players in the economy to co-operate more often for mutual advantage, by:

  • Helping farmers to survive and thrive outside the EU by incentivising, promoting and supporting improved co-operation in UK agriculture
  • Backing self-help solutions for the self-employed, such as freelancer co-ops and collective insurance schemes
  • Championing the use of co-operative consortia to help SMEs mitigate power imbalances, uncertainty and volatility
  • Ensuring UK competition policy after Brexit allows for economic co-operation between undertakings where this serves to benefit consumers
Co-operation could help farmers weather the effects of Brexit, says Co-operatives UK

What are others asking?

Creating an inclusive economy is a running theme among social businesses. Organisations representing co-operatives, mutuals, social enterprise and other community organisation are calling for power to be shared with people and for communities to receive greater investment, which will help to foster and more inclusive society.

Sharing power

Employee Ownership Association: It’s time to recognise the positive impact employee ownership has on the UK economy, and how widespread awareness and support of the sector can continue to reap benefits for Britain’s economic growth.  The EOA is calling for a greater focus on the role our sector can play in building and sustaining a more productive, resilient and innovative economy for all.

Locality: Whoever is in Government on 9 June needs to be prepared to look at radical new ways to give power to communities. English devolution has not gone far enough in pushing power onwards to neighbourhoods, and we need to reinvigorate the intentions of localism to truly put power in the hands of citizens.

Community investment

Locality: Community assets are essential in supporting local businesses and social enterprises to thrive, as well as safeguarding vital community facilities, supporting neighbourhood regeneration and building local social capital.

Wales Co-op Centre: Businesses, communities and individuals across Wales have benefited significantly from European Union funding. Social enterprises and co-operatives have been helped to grow and create new jobs as a result of business advice, grants and loans funded by the EU.  We want assurances that the kind of actions that European funds have supported over the years will be funded by the next UK Government.”

Inclusive society

Social Enterprise UK: Social enterprise has a significant role to play in helping those communities ‘left behind’ by a more globalised and unequal economy, and the election offers an opportunity for us to put forward our solutions across health and social care; the environment; education; employment and training; housing and a range of other areas.

Wales Co-op Centre: Traditional approaches to economic development are not working for the whole of Wales and economic growth has become unbalanced. The focus should be placed on creating the conditions where strong, local, community-centric economies can flourish. We believe that the social enterprise and co-operative sector can be at the centre of these economies.

Locality: Growing inequality and poverty are not inevitable. The EU referendum highlighted that many communities have been excluded from the benefits of economic growth for decades, and efforts to decentralise power have not gone far enough to give people a greater sense of control over their own lives. Locality believes in a fair and diverse society where every neighbourhood thrives and local people determine their future together.


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