How was 2023 for you and the co-op council sector?
Over the last year, the network has grown even further and now has 123 members and 21 supporters. We have attended local government and party conferences and exhibitions, and our case study books still disappear from our stand like hot cakes.
Local government is facing many serious financial challenges and councils are reaching crisis point. The main challenges are around escalating costs of social care and the network is determined to find alternative working models.
I have had the pleasure of chairing our Executive Oversight Committee, including using our membership subscriptions to fund policy labs and prototypes, giving our councils the space to innovate without putting scarce council funds at risk. This year, we continued our groundbreaking work developing co‑operative policy documents on those big challenges. This year we launched six new reports and announced seven new areas of policy development.
Our members were delighted this year to agree to fund our study visit to Emilia Romagna in Italy, an internationally renowned co-operative community, which will take place in March 2024.
Our annual conference was held in Sunderland in early November. Once again, it was a great success with a range of workshops and a big thank you to everyone who participated and attended. The plenary session in the morning focused on the crisis in children’s services and explored co-operative ways of working.
As a network of councils, we are actively working on community wealth building and what is needed to grow co-operative economies across the UK. We are looking closely at community banking and what that could look like for our communities and SMEs.
As we face the cost-of-living crisis, our members are reclaiming the traditions of community action, community engagement, and civic empowerment.
What are your hopes for the future?
The network is 10 years old and we are reviewing and updating our new strategy. We have been supported by the Ideas Alliance and are in the final stages of a co-produced piece of work. What is clear is the work of the network holds many solutions to the challenges we are facing as a country and we need to shout louder and harder in all the right places.
My hope for the near future is that we as a movement will be able to overcome the economic challenges and that Cooperatives Europe and the International Cooperative Alliance will continue to be recognised as strong and relevant vehicles for co-op locally and a focal point for cross-cutting debates and ideas.
Co-operation in Europe has a lot of good in store for the near future. The board has great plans, and we hope to make most of them a reality. We also see that young people truly want to do things differently. I strongly believe that all together we can be hopeful and optimistic about the future – even in these dire times.