The 21st century should be one of co-operation, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham told the Co-operative College’s Centenary Conference in Rochdale yesterday (27 November).
Mr Burnham argued young people are more prone to the idea of co-operating to make the world a better place, and said he would help to empower the next generation. The commercial approach to services deliver often fails – for instance, with regard to the crisis in Manchester’s housing market – so that “something fundamentally different is needed”, he added.
“Under all governments we’ve seen commercialisation of care services. Can anyone argue that that has led to better standards of care?” he asked, adding that social care services were often provided by staff on zero hour contracts.
“We have to empower this generation to come through and build new ways of doing things,” he said, adding that young people believe in a sharing economy.
“They don’t see things in the way we were taught to think – to have a car or a home was a statement. They think about maximising the use of resources. This belief in the sharing economy is something co-operators can believe in.”
Change in the 21st century will be about bottom-up solutions to local challenges, thinks Mr Burnham; this calls for more devolution of power, which is also needed to address carbon economy.
“More devolution would create the conditions to advance the cause of co-operatives,” he said.
Services are better when locally run, he added, pointing to Manchester’s Metrolink carries six million people a year with no public subsidies, he said. And – with fewer than half of the 98 train stations in Greater Manchester wheelchair accessible, a devolved control of the rail system would result in more responsive service, better integrated into their communities.
In the meantime, he said Network Rail should tackle problems with access, adding that he did not believe nationalisation is the answer for improving rail services.
To help the push for local solutions, he set up the Greater Manchester Co-operative Commission, and he told delegates he would spend the rest of his political career helping communities to make changes for themselves.
In an earlier speech at the conference, Cllr Sean Fielding, leader of Oldham Council, said co-ops can help tackle the rising inequalities in society – not least in Oldham itself, which has suffered from central government funding cuts.
A social value council, Oldham Council spends 60% locally, and tries to recruit locally, with entry level jobs going to locals where possible. When it is not possible to source services locally, the council sets up enterprises, particularly co-ops, to meet that need.
Education is also on the council’s agenda, to attract more people to the town. In May, Oldham Council announced £3.4m plans to expand a local school to increase its capacity.
Oldham has been a co-operative council since 2011 and is a member of the Co-operative Councils’ Innovation Network (CCIN).