Minister salutes flourishing co-op sector

The booming co-operative economy in the East Midlands was celebrated in Lincoln when junior minister Gillian Merron MP congratulated the region on its commitment to co-operation saying: “To...

The booming co-operative economy in the East Midlands was celebrated in Lincoln when junior minister Gillian Merron MP congratulated the region on its commitment to co-operation saying: “To me, Lincoln is the home of co-operation.”
Ms Merron attended an event to launch The Co-operative Economy in the East Midlands pamphlet which highlighted the economic success of the Movement in the area and was compiled by Jenny de Villiers, Secretary of Co-operatives East Midlands. 
The leaflet, which aims to increase awareness of co-operation and promote the success of co-ops in the East Midlands, was presented to delegates from the region’s businesses by Ms Merron along with Dame Pauline Green, Chief Executive of Co-operatives UK, and 
Ursula Lidbetter, Lincolnshire Co-op Chief Executive. 
The East Midlands is a hugely successful co-operative area with a turnover of almost £2.4 billion and 14,436 employees.
Ms Merron, Minister for the East Midlands, said that co-operatives and social enterprises of all kinds had a bright future with Labour in government and pledged that the Government was always looking at ways to promote social enterprise and ensure it has the right kind of support. 
Ms Merron told delegates: “Today isn’t just about the brochure. It’s also about showcasing the best of co-operation in the area. Social enterprises have huge potential to effect social change, but we need to talk up their role.”
She added that it is imperative young people really get involved with the Movement. Said Ms Merron: “We need to get young people to aspire and meet the needs of those aspirations. We have to be serious about encouraging and growing social enterprise.” 
Dame Pauline explained just how important and significant the Movement is to local, national and global economies. She congratulated the Lincolnshire Society on its successes in the region, both financially and socially and explained to delegates how Co-operatives UK works to promote and expand co-operative enterprise and act as the home of the wider Movement. 
She emphasised the importance of the Movement with some startling facts. She recalled that the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan once said that half the world’s population is supported in one way or another by a co-operative. 
Dame Pauline also said the top co-operatives that made the Global 300 list had a turnover of $1 trillion which is equivalent to the GDP of Canada — £27 billion of this comes from co-operatives in the UK. Co-ops also employ over 100 million people worldwide.
People often lose sight of the collective strength of co-operation due to its local nature, according to Dame Pauline, but she insisted the focus must remain at a local level to build its strengths. She said co-ops were about working together for an agreed purpose and “building wealth for the many”.
Ursula Lidbetter discussed how the Lincolnshire society supports other co-operatives in the region to ensure the success of the Movement as a whole. 
She said the society worked with a range of other co-ops in order to provide for the community. It has links with farmer co-ops in the region to ensure quality, low prices and to cut down on food miles. It also supports Fenland Green Wind Farm and has invested £150,000 to ensure its success and sets aside £50,000 each year to support various co-ops. 
To highlight the diversity of co-operative provision in the region organiser Jenny de Villiers arranged for a number of speakers to explain what their co-operative does. Delegates learned about financial co-operatives from ICOF’s Andrew Hibbert, while Phil Gibson, from the Dairy Farmers of Britain, discussed how farmers co-ops could be a profitable success. 
Sarah Tanner, of the Care Services Improvement Partnership, showed how the co-operative model may be used to provide and improve public services. 
She said that a pilot scheme for a new kind of social care would be piloted in Lincoln and would give customers the opportunity to choose the outcomes they want rather than the services they require. 
Added Ms Tanner: “It’s about client choice and client control. It’s an opportunity for us to provide a brokerage service, to provide individual budgets and act as a service broker.”
Delegates were also given an insight into how development agencies work with co-operatives to deliver what a community needs. 
Sue Kirby of the East Midlands Development Agency; Tanya Noon of Midlands Co-op Society; David Kelly of Social Enterprise East Midlands; and Jane Avery, Charles Cooke and Sarah Kirkpatrick from the Co-operative Deveolpment Agencies of Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire all gave their take on how co-operation works.
John Goodman, Head of Policy and Regions at Co-operatives UK, rounded off the day with a positive message to the gathered delegates. He said: “Co-operation works. It delivers to the people. We need to put co-operation right at the top of the agenda.”
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