I promised readers that the next Blog would focus on the eight Development Goals of the UN Millennium Declaration and I am grateful to those of you who have made contact to share your thoughts. These Goals can be quite simply stated as:
· To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
· To achieve universal primary education
· To promote gender equality and empower women
· To reduce child mortality
· To improve maternal health
· To combat HIV/Aids, malaria and disease
· To ensure environmental sustainability
· To develop global partnership for development and address the needs of the least developed countries.
I am sure that my Trustee and Director colleagues within the Robert Owen Group would sign up to these and I have little doubt that each of our members would find common ground with each of the Goals. We are told that within some of the aspirations there has been heartening progress with 98 million less hungry people in the past year; 90% of countries making progress towards primary education; progress made towards gender parity in primary education; child mortality rates falling from 100 deaths per live births in 1990 to 72 in 2008 meaning that the number of under-fives dying globally fell from 12.5 m to 8.8 million; progress made on maternal health still varies widely but in about one-third of developing countries, skilled health workers now attend 95% of all births with nearly 20% having almost universal access; in the area of HIV 26% of countries have seen HIV infection rates drop with 41% recording no change with progress on malaria; there has been huge progress on access to clean drinking water with deforestation declining but carbon dioxide emissions are now projected to rise again; debt levels have dropped and 40 countries are now eligible for debt relief but the financial crisis has hit the least developed countries the hardest.
At one level it seems encouraging but there are two clear reasons for each of us to be concerned:
The numerically large number of our brothers and sisters caught in the net of none or little progress in each and in many cases all of the targets
The prospect of standstill or regression in all of the targets because of the worldwide economic recession.
This budget week set in the context of the Government’s drive towards the UK Big Society is a good time to focus on these Goals and to reflect on the poverty within our own UK society, how this blights a large number of lives and impacts on a wide range of human performance. We might then consider what solutions and lessons we may learn from other countries – both developed and developing.
Well the co-operative solution is being trotted out at every opportunity as the way to deliver the UK Big Society. I am sure that the newly arrived enthusiasts for this approach understand that there are certain common concepts for all co-operatives worldwide and throughout history and these can be simply stated as:
The diehard co-operators amongst our members and readers will quite rightly scream Co-operative Values & Principles and, for the uninitiated, these can be found on the Robert Owen Group website. However, those of us who have rolled up our sleeves and are trying to deliver the Big Society on a day to day basis may take a more cynical view of the aspirations and values of those newly arrived at the co-operative table.
Francis Maude, Cabinet Minister, believes that a significant number of today’s public servants could be engaged in mutual organisations running their services on contract before the end of the current Parliament. Well Francis, whilst not doubting for one minute the strength of your beliefs, you need to know that there are an uncomfortable number of public servants who see the Big Society as merely re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titantic in order to preserve their jobs, their status, their remuneration and their conditions of service. Since autumn 2010 we, in the Robert Owen Group, have invested staff time, energy and resources in helping local authorities develop co-operative models to deliver a number of public services only to find that the model once developed is seized by the public servants and the Big Society becomes the Bugger Off & Thank You Society. Partnership becomes very much a one way street.
There is no existing infrastructure to support the setting up of public sector co-operative organisations and little muscle to support prevailing co-operative ideologies and loyalties. There are different co-operative and mutual models and a wide range of international experiences. In the Group’s short and painful experience local authorities and the Coalition Government do not understand the difference between mutual and private businesses. There must also be a clear understanding that co-operative and mutual organisations have to earn their keep as viable and vibrant businesses.
Back to the Millennium Development Goals which impact on all our lives and as the Coalition Government reduces our public sector, poverty in UK society will without doubt increase. How we fill the gap and improve the lives of Our People is going to occupy our minds as co-operators but we can be sure there is a job to be done on our public sector colleagues before the Co-operative Solution can impact.