The overarching theme of the 50th anniversary conference of the UK Society for Co-operative Studies was ‘the Co-operative Commonwealth’.
This was broken down into sessions at the September event covering: co-op history, politics, public service, education, new co-operativism, marketplace and sustainability, leading and managing, governance and accountability.
In particular, consideration was given to Laurence Gronlund’s vision for a ‘modern socialism’ and the development of a social economy from his 1884 treatise entitled ‘The Co-operative Commonwealth’ and how that may compare with the modern concept of ‘commonwealth’ and the re-imagining of ownership, management and control of public, social and private institutions.
During the open discussions, however, the ‘commonwealth’ was contrasted with the ‘commonweal’ (noun: The welfare of the public), with some participants arguing that the emerging social co-operation, such as care services, was more properly located in the latter.
This was re-enforced in the T.3 session: Co-operation in public service, where Mervyn Eastman explored the opportunities and risks within the developing co-operative social care approaches and models, as they are emerging into a fractured market. Mervyn challenged the co-op movement to decide exactly what it is seeking to address, within the current social care crisis.
Jan Myers presented on the different ideological drivers for the enabling of both the market and the community within public service reform, and Cheryl Barrott spoke about the current architecture of the co-op movement: Co-operatives UK, the Care Forums, the Co-op Party et al and the differing assumptions around public, private and personal models of care and the role of co-operation and co-operatives in the delivery of services.
As part of her presentation, Ms Barrott announced the launch of the Co-operative Guild of Social and Community Workers. The Guild, to be launched in January, will give practitioners an opportunity to deliberate, create a co-operative practice, develop core competencies and give a practical perspective to Mr Eastman’s challenge.
It is intended that the Guild will protect the practice of co-operative social and community workers, in any sphere, public, private or personal, as Fair Care is intended to protect co-operative services.