Cameron’s Co-ops: Co-operative College and the Scottish National Party react [Part 3]

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...

Mervyn Wilson (Principal — Co-operative College)

Few co-operators could have imagined that, in the run up to an election in the aftermath of the greatest financial crisis for over half a century, there would be universal acceptance of the role and potential of 21st Century co-ops and mutuals, albeit clouded with acrid exchanges over essential details. 

Co-operators will want to be convinced that any proposals for new co-operative ventures in public service delivery will actively engage their key stakeholder groups. These are not just employees, but users of services, as well as the employees. That is why the multi-stakeholder co-operative model for schools, involving parents, carers, learners, staff and local community organisations has proved so popular.

Co-operators also recognise that the essential characteristic of a genuine co-op is that it operates in a manner consistent with our globally shared statement of co-op identity, values and principles, and will want to see that the structures proposed are ones that enable members to exercise real ownership and exercise genuine democratic control.

The co-operative model has been widely adapted to meet the needs of members of an enormous range of economic, social and cultural activities globally, and there is clearly a big opportunity to further extend the boundaries of the co-operative sector in the UK. What is essential now is the detail — to be sure that it is not quasi governmental organisations being created in the name of co-operation.

• The Co-operative College has been promoting the concept of co-operative trust schools — allowing parents and teachers to run their school.


Willie Coffey (Scottish National Party spokesman)

David Cameron’s comments about Co-operatives are worrying. His latest vision seems to be little more than an attempt to diminish the public sector. And dress that up as co-operation.

He’s completely missed other very successful forms of co-operation such as housing and consumer co-ops.

And the worrying thing is that he compares his ideas to Mrs Thatcher’s “housing moment”.

Co-ops are gaining momentum and are seen as trusted and successful alternatives to the boom and bust business and banking failures in recent years.

They shouldn’t be used as a back-door alternative to public service delivery.

• Willie Coffey is co-convener of the cross-party group on co-operatives in the Scottish Parliament and MSP for Kilmarnock & Loudoun.

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