How has the past year been for the Party and how will this feed into the next 12 months?
When I reflect on 2021, the first word that comes to mind is impact. We made great strides on the issue of food justice. As the year started with another lockdown, access to Healthy Start vouchers was top of our agenda in January. Later, the Right to Food Bill, which we have been campaigning for, was introduced and is being re-consulted on in Scotland. We launched our Beyond Foodbanks paper, giving activists and local councillors the practical support to make a difference, and we have been promoting community fridges.
After May’s elections, we have a record group elected to the Scottish Parliament with 11 MSPs; in Cardiff Bay, Co-operative MSs make up the joint second largest party in the Senedd, while co-operators in key cabinet positions give us a fantastic opportunity to put co-operation at the heart of decision making in Wales. In local government, 313 Co-op councillors were elected, meaning there are now well over 900 across the country; and our councillors are joined by two new metro mayors including my former Westminster colleague Tracy Brabin, the first female metro mayor.
In London, all 11 Labour London Assembly Members now represent the Co-operative Party too. And our number of Police and Crime Commissioners has more than doubled, with seven Labour and Co-operative PCCs across the country.
We have had a number of policy wins this year; when the G7 came to Cornwall, the Party stood shoulder to shoulder with tax justice campaigners. We helped put pressure on our government and huge progress has been made with an international agreement on global minimum corporation rates.
On protecting retail workers from crime, too, we have made huge strides. I was delighted to see Party members and supporters play their part, with 3,000 getting in touch with their MPs to outline their support. In the face of this the government has committed to addressing this issue in the Bill when it comes back to the House of Lords. This is a huge development but we know there’s still more to be done to hold the government to this promise.
And at the heart of our work is our belief that a bigger co-operative sector will deliver a fairer economy. So the news this year that Labour / Co-op mayor Dan Jarvis is launching the South Yorkshire Ownership Hub is hugely welcome. Co-operative growth is the focus in much of our work, whether it’s the launch of the Tower Hamlets Co-operative Commission or work being led on a British and Welsh Marcora Law by Huw Irranca-Davis MS in Wales and Christina Rees MP in Westminster.
Our Co-operative Recovery Partnership also explored co-operative growth, working alongside Anneliese Dodds to understand and promote how our movement can lead a fairer economic recovery from Covid-19.
Co-operative and community ownership sit at the heart of our campaign, launched this year, to not simply save Britain’s high streets but to transform them. Councils across the country have begun passing motions committing to supporting community ownership of shops and calling on this Government to reform punitive business rates.
Throughout all of our work, there has been a common theme – equality. We kicked off 2021 welcoming a new Equalities Officer to our staff team, and have launched initiatives like our Diverse Councils project to develop a strategy for increasing diversity in council chambers across England, and our Chris Herries Mentoring Scheme, which will empower women from diverse groups to develop their skills through one-to-one mentoring.