Dan Roberts, policy and research officer at the Wales Co-operative Centre, outlines its priorities ahead of the Senedd elections in May 2021.
Recovery from the pandemic, the ongoing climate crisis and the unacceptable levels of poverty in Wales need to be placed at the heart of our next government’s agenda.
The global movement to shift economic development policy towards wellbeing and sustainability is growing. The Wales Co-operative Centre is asking political parties in Wales to commit to these ten policy proposals:
1) Continue to fund specialist business support tailored to the needs of social enterprises and co-operatives
Social enterprises and co-operatives make a huge contribution to communities and need continued specialist support in order to play an even bigger role following the current crisis. Social enterprises have been hit hard by Covid-19, but many stepped up when their communities needed them most. Ensuring we build on the success of Social Business Wales with a specialist business support service has never been so important.
2) Establish a new community wealth building taskforce to encourage people and organisations to buy locally and direct wealth back into local economies
The benefits of a focus on the Foundational Economy and community wealth building are well-documented. We recommend that a new taskforce is established to grow local economies, build local supply chains and place control and benefits into the hands of local people.
3) Ensure local authorities and housing associations work with local businesses and social enterprises on programmes to decarbonise social housing
Investment in the decarbonisation of social housing in Wales would make a significant impact on reducing carbon emissions and energy bills. The investment could also be a major boost for local economies if delivered effectively. We ask that the next Welsh government give housing associations and local authorities an ambitious target to spend a certain percentage of the investment with local businesses and social enterprises.
4) Double the number of Welsh businesses that are owned by their employees
One of the biggest barriers to the growth of the employee-owned sector in Wales is the lack of awareness and wider culture that exists in the country. The Welsh government should establish a leadership group to address this. In addition, the Development Bank of Wales should establish a specialist fund to help employees to buy an equity stake in their business, as requested by the Employee Ownership Association.
5) Create a new generation of socially responsible entrepreneurs by embedding social enterprise and wellbeing economics into economic/business studies curricula
We are calling for social enterprise and co-op models to be embedded in the entrepreneurship education students receive at Welsh schools, colleges and universities. There is good practice to be built on and replicated across Wales, including the Wrexham Hack of Kindness and the Social Enterprise Academy’s work with Cardiff Met University. It is essential we train a new generation of entrepreneurs who are ready to take forward socially responsible and environmentally friendly business ideas.
6) Pioneer the establishment of new community health co-ops to tackle the problem of GP services closing
As GPs retire there is a shortage of new GPs who are willing to buy-in to their practices and take on the liability of running the service as a sole trader business. One solution would be to establish new community health co-ops across Wales that provide a range of health and wellbeing services. Membership of these community health co-ops could be drawn from the local community and could include patients, doctors and other workers, representatives from the local authority and the health board.
7) Commit to growing the number of co-op and community-led housing schemes to increase the amount of affordable housing
Co-operative and community-led housing (CCLH) can meet local housing need in imaginative and innovative ways, and is often found in places where traditional forms of housing are not possible. It is making an increasingly important contribution to new housing supply in Wales. The benefits for residents range from improved skills and confidence to a greater feeling of community. One of the most significant barriers to new CCLH schemes is the ability to access appropriately priced and structured finance through the development process, so we are asking the next Welsh government to establish a revolving loan fund using Financial Transactions Capital funding.
8) Lead the world in engaging citizens and in harnessing digital tech to reach people
Wales Co-operative Centre supports the growing calls for Citizens’ Assemblies to be embedded into the political process in Wales. In this context, we strongly believe that the potential of digital democracy is yet to be fully realised and should be included in the conversation around the importance of Citizens’ Assemblies. Digital platforms can democratise debate and be an additional platform to voices that are currently under-represented in the political process.
9) Commit to ending digital exclusion
Ending digital exclusion will require a comprehensive and integrated programme of work to address issues such as motivation, cost, skills and connectivity. Developments in digital have transformed the lives of people in Wales over recent years but it also has the potential to exacerbate existing inequalities, as has been the case during the Covid-19 crisis. It has never been more important to reach those who are digitally excluded.
10) Promote and nurture digital leadership and skills in the third sector
Many charities and third sector organisations provide essential public and community services, and we need to ensure that these organisations can take advantage of digital technology to enhance the services they provide and to become more efficient. In particular, we are calling for specific leadership training to be made available to ensure that those working in the third sector are able to gain valuable digital skills.