The King’s Speech, delivered to Parliament last week, set out the year’s policy programme for the Sunak government, prompting dismay from the co-op and community business sector.
The speech – which included measures to toughen up the criminal justice system and phase in anti-smoking measures – went some way towards meeting one of the Co-op Party’s campaign demands, with a Leasehold and Freehold Bill to ban leaseholds for new houses, but not new flats, in England and Wales, and increase the standard lease extension period to 990 years.
But plans to award licences for oil and gas projects in the North Sea on an annual basis, under the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, drew protests from the energy co-op sector.
Responding to the speech in the House of Commons, Co-op Party chair Jim McMahon said it was “disappointing“ that the government had “failed … to seize the many solutions that our movement put forward”. He criticised plans to invest in fossil fuels “that help only multinational oil and gas giants” instead of supporting community renewables.
McMahon also called for more action against retail crime, echoing campaigns from the retail co-op movement.
And he wanted more support for communities looking to save local assets after a years of decline which have left “high streets … hollowed out with empty boarded-up buildings”.
“Yet again, another chance [has been] missed by the government come to really breaking down the barriers that we’re talking about here today, where people feel that the economy isn’t working for them,” McMahon added, reiterating Labour’s pledge to double the size of the UK co-op movement.
In a response on the Co-op Party website, general secretary Joe Fortune said: “Whilst the country continues to battle with the cost of living crisis, the government could have used today to set its vision to change Britain for the better.
“Instead, ministers offered little to communities, co-operatives and businesses across the country – backtracking on key priorities and watering down much needed policies.
“It’s time for a Labour and Co-operative government in Number Ten to spread power and wealth to communities and put local people back in the driving seat.”
With regard to plans for oil new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea, a group of energy co-ops signed an open letter criticising the government’s plan to provide just £10m of funding for the community energy sector, which they say is reads is “nowhere near enough” to tackle the climate crisis.
“Stop propping up big oil and put our country’s money into a solution that benefits everyone,” the co-ops – including Awel Aman Tawe, Brighton and Hove Energy Services Co-operative, Brighton Energy Co-operative, Bristol Energy Cooperative and Repowering London – wrote.
The speech was also criticised by community business organisation Power to Change, which said it offered “thin gruel“ for the sector.
“While the King’s Speech did bring a renewed commitment to levelling up and the need to strengthen the social fabric of the country, we want to see substantive change,” wrote deputy CEO Ailbhe McNabola on the Power to Change website. “We will continue to work with government and apply pressure where necessary to create the conditions that community business needs to thrive. That means delivering the right powers, resources, and backing.”
McNabola added that community businesses can deliver “tangible change“ and credited the government with “some recognition of this in its Long-Term Plan for Towns”.
“We will be looking closely at the detail of the proposed legislation to see whether there is scope for legislative changes – such as a Community Right to Buy – that could make a real difference for community business before the end of this Parliament,” she wrote.
“To unlock the full potential of community business, the government needs to deliver the powers, resources, and backing that they need to thrive. We remain hopeful that there is room for manoeuvre within this legislative programme to deliver against this and we will continue our work to create the conditions for community business to thrive. Community businesses are willing and able partners ready to grapple with the green transition, the cost of living, and revitalising the high street. It’s time government fully recognised that.”