This week has seen three of the main political parties release their General Election manifestos, all of which include references to co-operatives and mutuals.
Earlier in the month the Co-operative Party launched its Policy Platform, which features a commitment to at least double the size of the co-operative sector; unlock potential with a new programme of community wealth building; tackle the climate emergency with a co-operative green new deal; and put any Brexit deal back to the people.
Here, we look at the specific pledges Labour, Lib Dems, Greens and Plaid Cymru have made around co-operatives; the Conservative and SNP manifestos are still to be released.
The Labour Party has restated its mission to double the size of the co-operative sector, adding it would create a new Co-operative Development Agency.
Launched yesterday (21 November), the Labour manifesto commits to extend community control in the private sector by supporting local and community businesses. An incoming Labour government would also launch a new Post Bank based in Post Office branches to enable start-ups, small businesses, co-ops and community projects to access the capital they need to make “transformational changes”.
Labour intends to give workers a stake in the companies they work for a share of the profits they help create – by requiring large companies to set up Inclusive Ownership Funds (IOFs). Under these plans, up to 10% of a company will be owned collectively by employees, with dividend payments distributed equally among all, capped at £500 a year, and the rest being used to top up the Climate Apprenticeship Fund. The manifesto confirms the cap will rise to ensure that no more than 25% of dividends raised by IOFs are redistributed in this way. Labour would also increase public sector pay by 5% if Labour wins the election.
In terms of energy policy, the party says it will expand distributed and community energy in addition to banning fracking and introducing a windfall tax on oil companies.
There is a pledge to bring energy and water systems “into democratic public
ownership” with utilities run not from Whitehall “but by service-users and workers”, but the manifesto does not specify what model this will use.
Labour would also require all employers with over 250 employees to obtain government certification on gender equality and introduce mandatory disability pay-gap reporting.
The party’s agenda for care provision focuses on a planned model of joined-up community care, enabling people to live longer lives in better health in their own homes. However, the manifesto does not clarify whether this approach would also involve developing care co-operatives.
Other manifesto commitments include will list pubs as Assets of Community Value so community groups have the first chance to buy local pubs when they are under threat and giving communities the powers and resources they need to keep public spending circulating in the local economy.
On Brexit the manifesto says the party would hold a second referendum and get it sorted within six months.
Commenting on the the Labour manifesto , Joe Fortune, general secretary of sister organisation the Co-operative Party, said: “It is great that many of the ideas the Co-operative Party put forward in our ‘Building a fairer future’ policy platform have been reflected in the Labour Party manifesto.
“Included are a strong mix of proposals that the Co-operative Party developed such as the commitment to double the size of the co-operative sector; campaigns we have worked on with co-operative societies such as a ‘right to food’ or new protections for retail workers; and policies we have promoted in relation to community energy, fan-owned football clubs and community assets. We hope co-operative values and ideas will be at the heart of the next Parliament.”
The Conservatives pledge a fund to regenerate 100 towns across the country – with decisions on how the money is spent to be decided locally, which could potentially benefit community-led projects. Other measures which could benefit co-ops and community businesses include a cut in taxes for small retail and leisure outfits.
More specific to the sector, the manifesto promises a £150m Community
Ownership Fund to encourage local takeovers of threatened community assets such as football clubs, pubs and post offices. Plans also include a “fan-led review of football governance” and help for communities to create
or regenerate small parks.
It promises more spending on transport and care but makes no mention of co-op ownership structures. However, there is mention of support for community housing models, and its plans for full devolution could give more room to manoeuvre for councils to pursue co-op models of local government. In its own national procurement plans it also promises to give business to SMEs and start-ups.
Money is also pledged for clean energy projects but there is no mention of the plans to reverse on-shore wind planning restrictions – with a continued emphasis on offshore projects – or changes to feed-in tariffs which have hobbled the community energy sector.
The Liberal Democrats promise to give customers and communities more power to hold companies accountable, and to take charge of aspects oflocal development through local banks and community energy co-ops.
Themed Stop Brexit, Build a Brighter Future, the party’s manifesto argues a LibDem government would “build an economy that works for everyone, fosters a diversity of types of business – mutuals, social enterprises and community interest companies – and empowers employees”.
The party says it will encourage employers to promote employee ownership by giving staff in listed companies with more than 250 employees a right to request shares, to be held in trust for the benefit of employees.
In addition, it will work to strengthen worker participation in decision-making, including staff representation on remuneration committees, and require all UK-listed companies and all private companies with more than 250 employees to have at least one employee representative on their boards with the same legal duties and responsibilities as other directors.
The Lib Dem manifesto also looks at rail franchising, arguing they would open up the bidding process to public sector companies, local or combined authorities, not-for-profits and mutuals.
Other Lib Dem policies include introducing a general duty of care for the environment and human rights. This would require companies, financial institutions and public sector agencies to exercise due diligence in keeping their operations and supply chains clear of specified activities such as child labour or modern slavery, or specified products such as those associated with deforestation. They will also be required to report on their actions. The party intends to reform fiduciary duty and company purpose rules to ensure that all large companies have a formal statement of corporate purpose.
The Green Party
The Green Party manifesto focuses on decarbonising the UK economy, with references to the role co-ops could play in the process. The Greens would create a network of regional mutual banks to provide funding for start-up companies, particularly co-operatives, community interest companies and other non-profit businesses, developing technologies, which contribute to decarbonising the economy.
The Greens pledge to provide co-ops and small businesses with free training on energy efficiency, and will ban fracking.
On housing the party commits to ending no-fault evictions, to make it easier to set up community-led housing initiatives and help private renters in houses of multiple occupancy to buy and run their home as a housing co-op.
Another policy would see education about co-ops and community interest companies introduced in schools’ curricula to support co-operatives and community interest companies.
The Greens would also give small businesses access to lending at affordable rates, by helping to establish a network of regional mutual banks. The new banks will be created specifically to provide funding for locally led economic initiatives and opportunities, including co-operatives, community interest companies and other non-profit businesses.
Plaid Cymru’s manifesto places a strong emphasis on making Wales self-sufficient in renewable electricity through investing in the acquisition and development of new large scale generating and storage capacity projects and providing support for community energy initiatives.
Co-operatives UK’s response
Co-operatives UK secretary general Ed Mayo said: “A general election is not a referendum on a single issue, even if single issues may be uppermost for many voters. It is the election of a government that will have responsibility for the direction of the UK economy in quite extraordinarily challenging circumstances. We know that in this context, it is common sense to look to co-operative solutions.
“Co-ops and mutuals are a way to create and share wealth and to bring people together, and we are very encouraged by the commitments we see in some of the manifestos launched to date. So far the Liberal Democrats, Labour, the Green Party and Co-operative Party have all made manifesto commitments to support co-ops – or mutuals in the case of the Lib Dems.
“Notably, Labour’s manifesto contains a standout commitment to double the size of the co-operative sector through a National Cooperative Development Agency, as part of its approach to community wealth building. We applaud this ambition. It’s great to see parties are recognising the potential for co-ops to contribute to a fairer, more sustainable economy.”