In the wake of the financial crisis, and as we face what is likely to be the toughest public spending round for councils in recent memory — we believe that there has never been a time in which co-operative values and principles have been more important.
These offer a way to protect and improve frontline services as councils and the public sector face reductions in funding as a result of the recession.
The Tory plan for no-frills public services taken from budget airlines like EasyJet is unfair. What that means is minimal services offered to most people with better services available only to those wealthy enough to pay more for upgrades.
That kind of two-tier, pay-twice Tory model is unacceptable to progressive Labour councillors. For us, the future direction of local government should be based on the co-operative values of fairness, accountability and responsibility that will enable the creation of a more sustainable local economy and a new settlement between people and their public services.
We want to protect frontline services. Where appropriate, we shall do this by giving citizens and communities real power to take responsibility for running services themselves, freeing up resources to guarantee services for the most vulnerable. This will not only save money, but also help build stronger communities, local leadership and services that are more responsive to local needs.
Labour councils will draw on co-operative values to give power to all of us – as residents, service users, carers and staff. We will use whichever models are most appropriate to different services and different communities, including co-operatives, mutuals, or services with greater involvement from service users and the community.
Such services must embody public-sector values, and we will ensure that where public money is spent, organisations are run in the interests of the whole community rather than the narrow sectional interests of one stakeholder group against another, and with the highest levels of financial probity under accountable public scrutiny.
Co-operative values will also shape the way that we seek to rebuild our local economies, ensuring that they serve our collective needs as people, putting long term social benefit ahead of short term private gain.
Mutually owned businesses and social enterprises have an important part to play in the national and local economies. They not only generate wealth and employment – but their profits are retained in the community to the benefit of other local businesses or, often, used directly for the benefit of the community. We will assist their development to ensure that they are strong and sustainable.
The choice facing the electorate is stark. It’s between protecting frontline services and providing a secure future for communities with Labour, or savage cuts to frontline services and communities left to suffer the consequences under the Tories and Liberal Democrats. Current times are difficult, but we can meet that challenge by using co-operative values to reshape public services for the better.