Cameron’s Co-ops: Northern Ireland Co-op Forum and Co-operative Futures react [Part 5]

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...

Erskine Holmes (Chairman — Northern Ireland Co-op Forum)

Progressive co-operative ideas have often come in conservative packages in Ireland, so David Cameron’s proposals do not surprise us. 

Horace Plunkett, progressive co-operator and chairman of the Irish Peace Convention 1917, was elected as an Irish Unionist. The founder of the consumer movement in the North, James McGuffin, was a Unionist. 

The agricultural co-operative leader in Ulster from 1921, Harold Barbour was an Ulster Unionist. Instead of expressing shock and horror we should look at how to sustain the initiative beyond the hustings. Cross-party co-operative groups of elected members have been set up in the devolved nations of Scotland and Wales and one will follow in Northern Ireland and possibly one in the Dail. 

This may be the last Westminster election fought on the first past the post electoral system, so prepare for cross-party government and a cross-party approach to all important policies, including community share ownership schemes and worker owned services.

• The Northern Ireland Co-op Forum’s aim is to further develop the co-operative model across Northern Ireland.

Jim Pettipher (Director — Co-operative Futures)

As a co-operative development worker I am a non-party political evangelist for co-op values and principles. I welcome conversions to co-operation, from wherever they come.

So, why do Trojan Horses come to mind whenever anyone in politics starts talking about “externalising” — the ghastly jargon for it — public services?

Co-operative ownership of appropriate public service delivery is not a new idea. The Foster Care Co-operative — founded because the members believed that it is plain wrong to make speculative profits from the care of vulnerable children — is ten years old and delivers outstanding care nationally.

And that’s the acid test for any proposed externalisation: the first co-operative principle of voluntary and open membership. If the proposed co-operative is the prospective members’ idea then that’s great. If it’s somebody else’s idea then maybe, but beware of Greek’s bearing gifts.

There’s no such thing as a free horse: somebody still has to feed and water it.

• Co-operative Futures is a development agency that helps establish co-operative businesses and provides support.

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