Looking ahead to 2018: Questions for the movement’s leaders

We ask some leading co-operators about their achievements in the year gone by – and what they are expecting from the coming year

The News speaks to Claire McCarthy from the Co-op Party, Tiziana O’Hara from Co-operative Alternatives, which supports the sector in Northern Ireland, Derek Walker from Wales Co-operative Centre, James Alcock from the Plunkett Foundation, which supports rural community enterprises, and Bruno Roelants and Elisa Terrasi from CICOPA, the international organisation of co-ops in industry and services.

Claire McCarthy – general secretary, the Co-op Party

What have you been most proud of in 2017?

Throughout 2017, the Party has been celebrating our centenary, in which we’ve sought to look forward, as well as back.  Marching our specially commissioned marching banner, alongside our friends from the trade union movement at Durham Miner’s Gala was a real highlight.  We were also very pleased to welcome Andy Burnham – our newly elected Labour & Co-operative Mayor of Manchester – to an exhibition of our history at the People’s History Museum.  Our year culminated at our Centenary Conference in October, where 500 visitors and delegates were addressed by Jeremy Corbyn, the first elected Labour leader to speak at Co-op Party conference since Jim Callaghan.

Claire McCarthy [photo: Andrew Wiard]
Claire McCarthy [photo: Andrew Wiard]
There were also dozens of events organised by our members up and down the country to commemorate the Centenary from Cornwall, to Anglesey to Perth. 2017 has seen our membership reach a modern high of 11,000.  There were over 350 local Co-operative Party meetings this year – the equivalent of one a day.

June’s snap General Election saw members campaigning up and down the country for the election of Labour & Co-operative MPs, having already worked tirelessly in May’s local and mayoral elections. We were proud to stand with Labour on a manifesto that committed the next Labour & Co-operative government to doubling the size of the co-operative sector.  More than 1.3 million people voted for a Co-operative candidate in June, securing the election of 38 MPs – the largest number in our history.

What are you looking forward to in 2018?

Having secured a commitment to doubling the size of the co-operative sector in Labour’s General Election manifesto, we’ll be developing plans to make that ambition a reality.  We’ll be working with the movement to identify opportunities for growth and to remove the barriers that hold co-operation back, as well as setting out the ‘why’ and ‘how’ for accountable public ownership in key areas including transport and utilities.

We’re also looking forward to an important set of  local elections in May, in which we’re hopeful of significant increases in councillors in London and in other major cities across England. The work of councils such as Preston show the huge value that co-operators in local government can bring.

What challenges are you facing in 2018?

The Co-operative Party is working with our elected representatives to understand and mitigate the challenges and uncertainties Brexit poses for the co-operative sector, as well as seeking to ensure that co-operative values and approaches have an important role to play in Britain after March 2019.

Equally, we’re acutely aware of the very real consequences of economic uncertainty, falling living standards and low productivity for millions of people. That’s why we’re continuing to champion co-operative and employee ownership as a means to ensure that our economy’s rewards, as well as risks, are fairly shared.

Tiziana O’Hara (second from left) at Can-do, Will-do,Must-do, with Keith Forster, Department for the Economy NI; Ed Mayo, Co-operatives UK; Karen Arbuckle, Co-operative Alternatives; and Leah Thompson, Belfast City Council

Tiziana O’Hara, Co-operative Alternatives

What have you been most proud of in 2017?

2017 was a good year for Co-operative Alternatives and the co-operative movement in Northern Ireland. We have been working with new co-operatives addressing urban regeneration, football ownership and community supported agriculture. Most of all, we had great fun with a tour of local co-operatives at the beginning of the year!  Such was the demand for a place on the tour that we had to change the size of the bus twice!  We also ended the year with a great conference “Co-operatives: Can-do, Will-do, Must-do” with Ed Mayo of Co-operatives UK visiting Northern Ireland in November.

What are you looking forward to in 2018?

More co-operatives to come through…

What challenges are you facing in 2018?

The local Community Shares pilot programme is coming to an end in 2018. However, with over £500,000 raised in community shares over the past four years, we proved the point that community shares are an option for Northern Ireland, too.

Derek Walker, chief executive of the Wales Co-operative Centre

Derek Walker, Wales Co-operative Centre

What have you been most proud of in 2017?

The co-operative sector has continued to grow in Wales as people increasingly see the co-operative advantage. We have been pleased to help groups apply co-operative values and principles to the pressing issues facing Wales today for example the need for social care, affordable housing, energy etc.  Examples include:

Cartrefi Cymru, Wales’ largest rural social care provider, became a co-operative earlier this year. This means they are now a multi stakeholder organisation whose members work together for mutual benefit. By June they had already exceeded their year-one target of 100 members.

Gower Power Co-op launched a public share offer in May of this year to put its £1m solar farm in Swansea into community ownership. The project offers a projected 5% annual interest to investors and provides enough clean electricity to power over 300 houses annually. The share offer is now closed and raised a whopping £905,640.

What are you looking forward to in 2018?

Next year we will continue our support for the co-op sector in Wales and look to improve what we do. We also hope to launch exciting new initiatives, for example a dedicated business advice service for new co-ops and social enterprises. We are also looking to work in the agri food sector, having not worked in that area for many years.

What challenges are you/your co-op facing in 2018?

Preparing for Brexit and the challenges that it presents will be a key challenge for the Wales Co-operative Centre and the co-op sector more generally. Many of the most deprived communities in Wales benefit from EU Structural Funds. We will be working with these communities and with government to ensure the Welsh economy and services are supported during this challenging period.

Plunkett supports organisations such as the Great Oakley Community Hub in Essex, which this year bought a property to run as a restaurant – after saving village pub the Maybush Inn in 2016

James Alcock, general manager, Plunkett Foundation

What have you been most proud of in 2017?

2017 has been a very good year for the Plunkett Foundation, and one of strong performance and high impact. Looking back over the year, what I’m particularly proud of is the fantastic team we have who have continued punching above their weight to grow the rural co-operative sector and raise our profile with policy makers and national and regional stakeholders. Throughout the year, we’ve seen a growth in new enquiries from community groups exploring the community co-operative model to tackle a much broader range of issues such as health, loneliness and wellbeing. The range of ideas and projects we are now supporting is just staggering, and the specialist nature of the support being sought has grown tremendously. The team here have certainly risen to these challenges, and according to our independent evaluations, exceeded the expectations communities have had of us.

A particular highlight within the year that illustrates the strength of the team and the passion and commitment they have, was our AGM in July. This event showcased the diversity of our activities and achievements, which was even more impressive given the backdrop of the financial challenges facing our sector. An additional highlight for me was our Rural Community Co-operative Awards. Both the day spent with judges, pouring over the applications, and the ceremony event itself where we hear directly from the short listed groups is truly inspirational and a reminder of the hard hitting impact these communities achieve.

What are you looking forward to in 2018?

I am particularly looking forward to launching and delivering our new 2018-22 strategy. Without giving too much away ahead of its launch in July 2018, the Foundation will be seeking to continue delivering the good work that it has been doing in growing the sector, growing our reach, and growing our impact so that more rural communities benefit from the opportunities that community co-operatives provide.

What this means in practice is a continuation of our activities to inspire communities to consider the co-operative approach whilst maintaining a first class support service that meet their needs. What will be different and what we are looking forward to is in working in closer partnership with a range of national, regional and local organisations who can help us reach new audiences, who can provide complementary support, and who can help us to get our messages heard and give greater representation to rural communities across the UK.

What challenges are you facing in 2018?

We will be working hard to ensure that we continue providing, and securing funding for, a national service that is balanced across all parts of the UK, for all forms of enterprise, and at all stages of their journey. This is an ongoing challenge that Plunkett faces, but the political uncertainty of Brexit discussions, and the unknown fate of EU funding streams adds to that concern as to what the issues facing rural communities will be, and to what extent we and our partners will have the resource to respond to them. However, wherever there is change and challenge, there is also opportunity. Plunkett’s longevity is in part owing to its ability to adapt to the evolving needs of rural communities, so I have no doubt, this particular challenge is not insurmountable.

Cicopa has conducted a review of the future of work

Bruno Roelants, secretary general of CICOPA, and Elisa Terrasi, CICOPA researcher and co-author of the Youth report

What have you been most proud of in 2017?

Bruno Roelants: The Employment Report and the incoming Global Report 2015-2016 on Industrial and Services co-ops. Employment is one of the most important contributions made by co-operatives throughout the world. This report shows that people involved in cooperatives constitute a sufficiently high percentage to be considered as a major actor in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as in the worldwide debate on the Future of Work launched by the International Labour Organisation.

In addition, the intent of the study is to improve the methodology and the quality level of cooperative statistics. This is particularly timely, as the next International Congress of Labour Statisticians will take place in 2018. The public authorities and the co-operative movement itself should pay particular attention to this forthcoming event.”

We are happy to share our second two-year global report on industrial and service co-operatives, covering the years 2015 and 2016. A significant added value of this second report is that it allows us to start monitoring systematically the evolution of our global co-operative network, both in the quantitative and qualitative components of the analysis. It is also worth pointing out that our whole exercise of reporting the situation of our co-operative network, which started with data from 2013, is the result of several years of patient preparation.

We started our first general survey of members back in 2004, and our first questionnaire on economic activities, based on the UN ISIC classification system, in 2008. In 2009, we launched our surveys on members’ qualitative data in the wake of the global crisis. But it is only in 2013 that we had collected enough pieces of the puzzle to have a rather faithful (even though far from complete) of our network.

On the other hand, during those years, our network has also been undergoing a strong geographical enlargement, jumping from 18 countries to 32 countries in 15 years (including large ones like the USA and Brazil), thus making this reporting exercise increasingly meaningful.

Another added value of the present report is that we have been able to provide a quantitative estimation of industrial and service co-operatives in the world, beyond our own network. This has been possible thanks to another big reporting exercise in which CICOPA has been involved over the last few years, namely the first and the second report on Cooperatives and Employment (2014 and 2017). That series of reports, differently from the present one, deals with employment in the entire co-operative movement, but it provides us with very useful data enabling us to make an estimation of co-operatives in industrial and service sectors as well.

As the reader will discover, this reality is much larger than the CICOPA network, suggesting that there still is a long way to go before CICOPA can include all these co-operatives (some of which are affiliated to ICA member organisations, others not), and thus be able to improve its level of reporting on, and representing industrial and service cooperatives in the world.

What are you looking forward to in 2018?

Elisa Terrasi: The youth report and a strong implication in the debate on the future of work.

A global study on youth co-operative entrepreneurship is presently being elaborated, on the basis of a desk research and the results of an online survey involving more than 60 youth cooperatives organised as worker, social and producers’ co-operatives in the five continents.

The study will bring into the debate some considerations about the main interests and challenges for establishing cooperatives among young people. It will be a source of inspiration for further debates and studies, a tool at disposal of CICOPA members and the whole cooperative movement to promote a better understanding of the potential of cooperatives for youth among policy makers.

What challenges are you/your co-op facing in 2018?

A better inter-sectoral dynamic inside the ICA and demonstrate that worker ownership is a valuable answer for current employment challenges and the future of work

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