Cameron’s Co-ops: Wales Co-operative Centre and the Liberal Democrats react [Part 4]

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...

Simon Harris (CEO — Wales Co-operative Centre)

The Wales Co-operative Centre recognises the support of the both the Welsh Assembly Government and the Westminster Government in supporting the development of the social enterprise sector throughout the UK. 

The fact that all the major political parties are talking about co-operation must be seen as a positive step forward for the Movement as a whole. 

However, many challenges remain. Firstly, if we are to enter a period of state sponsored co-operative organisations, we must ensure that these new organisations understand, promote and live up to the co-operative principles — it is one thing for a worker to be offered membership to the organisation for which they work, it is another thing for that employee to feel true ownership and empowerment. 

Secondly, this process must not be driven simply by the need to reduce public expenditure, but must look to the longer term goal of delivering truly effective and efficient public services. Co-operative delivery of public service is not a new phenomenon; the history of the Movement includes many examples of core services being delivered by small locally based co-operatives.  

The real potential for future delivery must be based on a co-operative model that empowers the citizen, the user and the worker to develop the service for the mutual good. The multi stakeholder co-operative could allow us to develop the truly citizen-centred services of the future.

• The Wales Co-operative Centre promotes the interest of co-operatives in Wales.

Bob Russell (Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester)

The Co-operative Movement predates the Labour Party by 60 or more years, so it is wrong for Labour to assume that it has sole political rights to the concept and principles of co-operation.

I have long argued that the Co-operative Movement should seek the support and involvement of all the democratic political parties, so that all political parties embrace co-operation as a core belief in the same way as all political parties — to varying degrees — now regard ‘green’ issues as integral to their thinking.

If Conservative leader David Cameron is sincere in what he is saying, then all co-operators should welcome his conversion to the concept of community and the value of shared ownership.

But saying and doing are not necessarily the same thing. The Conservative Party’s track record on co-operation has been virtually non-existent for decades, so there is a lot of catching up for David Cameron and many other Conservatives to do.

• Bob Russell is a former director of the Colchester Co-operative Society.

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