The city of Glasgow has been recognised by European development body URBACT for its support of co-operatives, including credit unions.
URBACT is the European programme for tackling the challenges of urban development and implements projects in many areas including social inclusion, poverty and sustainable development.
It has drawn up a list of cities to hold up as an example of good practice in specific areas, and Glasgow was one of 97 to be chosen from more than 300 submissions.
Glasgow – a co-operative city – was singled out for its work with credit unions, including offering practical and financial assistance, and the Futures Savers Programme, a partnership between 14 credit unions and 42 high schools to ensure all students entering high school could benefit from a credit union account.
Over the next year, Glasgow will be promoted at an EU level for its work in developing and implementing more co-operative ways of working and supporting the development of the co-operative and social enterprise sector.
Glasgow is well known for its thriving credit union sector – more than one in four residents of the city are a member of a credit union – and the city of home to a range of credit unions, from very large employer, focused credit unions, to smaller community-based credit unions.
In 2011 the city played host to the World Credit Union Conference, which saw delegates from around 60 nations descend on Glasgow to celebrate the movement.
The Association of British Credit Unions (ABCUL) welcomed the news. Its policy officer for Scotland, Karen Hurst, said “Glasgow City Council has long been a big supporter of its credit unions, and this is reflected in the strong, thriving credit unions that Glasgow is home to.
“We hope that other cities will look at how this could be replicated as, with the right support, credit unions can make a huge difference to people’s lives everywhere.”
Highlighting Glasgow’s success, URBACT said: “Glasgow City Council is growing co-operative businesses and social enterprises, and devolving power to its citizens.
“It launched a Co-operative Development Unit to boost sustainable cooperatives and social enterprises in the city, running a Business Development Fund to support new and existing co-operatives. 56 Co-operative Glasgow Business Development Grants have sparked an increase in turnover of about 7.7 million euros in the city’s social enterprise and co-operative sector.
“A council-wide network of Co-operative Champions was also created to embed co-operative principles in service delivery opportunities.”
And it urged other cities to follow its example.
“Co-operative Glasgow fundamentally changes the culture within the local authority and offers cities a model with which to adapt their attitude towards co-designed services without radical changes in structures, something that can be bureaucratic and time-consuming,” it said.
It added: “Glasgow can impart expertise in navigating difficult legal challenges to creating more democratic partnerships with external organisations.
“Glasgow understands the financial responsibilities of cities that can often lead to local authorities being ‘risk averse’ when implementing new programmes or priorities. Co-operative Glasgow has the experience to mitigate this.
“The development of a network of ‘Co-operative Champions’ across the council is an easily transferable model that cities can adopt.”
Other UK cities highlighted for good practice are Bristol, Sheffield, Barnsley, Manchester and Preston.
Preston, which is a leading light in the co-operative councils’ movement for its adoption of the Cleveland model, was listed for good practice in using spending analysis to improve procurement practice and benefit the local economy.
This policy has benefited co-operatives and saw the city highlighted at this year’s Co-operative Congress, where a number of sessions looked at ways to “reimagine” the UK along co-op lines.