Cameron’s Co-ops: Co-operatives UK and The Green Party react [Part 1]

Each day this week Co-operative News will be publishing reaction from co-operative enthusiasts around the UK in response to the Conservative Party's idea to transform public services into...

David Coulter (Deputy Chief Executive — Co-operatives UK)

David Cameron’s recent announcement about employees creating public sector co-operatives is certainly an example of new and innovative thinking about the sector. Innovation is an important strength of co-operation and is something Co-operatives UK welcomes. 

However, like any new policy the devil is in the detail and how this would actually work is what will be crucial to its success. If it is imposed on public sector workers from above, it won’t work. Or if it is seen as an attempt to get public services on the cheap, it won’t work. 

For any employee co-operative to be successful, the workers who get involved must have access to plenty of good, accurate information. And these co-operatives must come about because the employees themselves want to form a co-operative.

Before we can decide whether these proposals really offer practical options for public service workers, Co-operatives UK would need to see more detail, but we certainly welcome increased debate about the importance of co-operatives to our economy.

• Co-operatives UK represents and promotes the interests of all co-operatives within the UK.


Molly Scott Cato 

Economic Speaker — The Green Party

In his inept and inarticulate way, George Osborne is doing his best to portray the Tories as the public sector’s friend. Nurses and teachers are encouraged to forget the fact that he has a large knife in his back pocket and listen to his honeyed words about them being able to enjoy greater control.

The strength of the UK Co-operative Movement has been on the consumer side, yet the co-operatives George Osborne appears to be suggesting for the public sector will be worker co-operatives. If the Tories meant this, it could mean that your surgeon or job counsellor would decide what operation you needed or how long you could claim benefit before you were struck off the list.

But of course, he does not mean it. This is not a proposal to empower public-sector workers, but a cynical first step on the road to the privatisation of the health service. 

With US corporations eager to take over hospitals and clinics — and pharmaceutical corporations already dominating the policy agenda — we should be very cautious about responding warmly to Osborne’s weasel words.

The Shadow Chancellor might gain more credibility with the Co-op Movement if he gave support to the campaign to remutualise the Royal Bank of Scotland and introduced financial support for employees who wish to take over their own workplaces, rather than offering public-sector workers a share in schools and hospitals which his own policies will make unmanageable.

• Molly Scott Cato is a researcher for the Cardiff Institute for Co-operative Studies.


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