THE days when the Co-op Movement could be reasonably referred to as a "sleeping giant" are over, says Co-operative Group Chief Executive Martin Beaumont.
In his address the Labour Party spring conference in Manchester, Mr Beaumont told his audience ? including Prime Minister Tony Blair and dozens of ministers, MPs and elected representatives ? that the co-op sector is alive, well, and expanding.
He said: "We have in the past 30 years or so been referred to as a sleeping giant, but this is no longer the case. We are well and truly awake ? the co-operative renaissance is under way.
"This is an exciting time for the Movement. Ideas such as localism, new mutualism and communitarianism ? call them what you will ? now feature more prominently on the political agenda.
"There appears to be a real desire to see ordinary people intrinsically involved in shaping the future development of their communities, often in a way that embodies many of our core common values and principles ? equality, solidarity, democracy, self-help, self responsibility and concern for the community."
He pointed out that the co-operative approach is as relevant today as it was in the era of the Rochdale Pioneers.
Said Mr Beaumont: "In today's society where concerns over the nation's health, the environment, and the decline of local community infrastructure are high on the political agenda, we are actively engaging with these issues as we labour to make the co-operative virtuous circle turn.
"It is a circle because we recognise that it is only our commercial success that allows us to play a part in community life, helping those communities to build and shape their own futures. This activity in turn creates strong mutually beneficial ties, which cement our place within some ruthlessly competitive markets."
Mr Beaumont drew attention to Labour's historic links with the Co-op Movement and the North West's significance as the birthplace of the co-operative sector and added that the conference provided an opportunity to renew old friendships, make new acquaintances and share thoughts and ideas.