The May 6 general election will be contested by 42 Labour/Co-op candidates — the highest total ever — and Party officials are optimistic that with most Prospective Parliamentary Candidates, including 22 retiring MPs, fighting safe or winnable seats, there will be a strong Co-op presence in the House of Commons.
Just before the election was called, the Co-operative Party was boosted by the news that two more members of its Parliamentary Panel — Tom Greatrex and Jonny Reynolds — had been selected to stand in the safe Labour seats of Rutherglen & Hamilton West and Stalybridge & Hyde respectively.
The Scottish seat was formerly held by Labour/Co-op MP Tommy McAvoy, who had a majority of 16,112 at the 2005 general election, while the Stalybridge & Hyde constituency in Greater Manchester was previously represented by former Cabinet minister James Purnell, who had a majority of over 8,000 five years ago.
Co-operative Party General Secretary Michael Stephenson saluted the 42 candidates hoping to become Labour/Co-op MPs on May 6. He said: “The fact that a lot of our candidates are young means that they will bring fresh drive and enthusiasm to the task of representing the Movement in Parliament. There has never been a more important time for the Co-operative Party.
“With Labour implementing our agenda and pledging to do more for co-operatives in a fourth term, we have to make sure we elect as many Labour/Co-op MPs as possible to put those plans into action.”
Although none of the party manifestoes were available as the News went to press, Cabinet minister Tessa Jowell has made it clear that Labour will spell out plans to utilise co-operative and mutual solutions in the provision of public services.
A Government report — ‘Mutual Benefit: giving people control of public services’ — which was launched just before the election was announced said health and social care, housing and Sure Start children’s centres would benefit by expanding the concept of mutuality.
Said Ms Jowell: “This is the moment for mutualism. In the wake of the global financial crisis and the Parliamentary expenses scandal, it is clear that people are no longer prepared to trust large organisations over which they have no control. What we are seeking to do is develop a new relationship between the institutions of government and the people they exist to serve.”
She added: “This is not a Whitehall prescribed national blueprint, but enabling new collaboration to develop in an organic way within communities. That is why the Government is taking measures to improve and enhance opportunities for local people and professionals to realise the potential of mutual forms of organisation.”
Five key changes in public services are being planned:
• A pilot running children’s centres as part of local mutual federations. Each of the federations will bid to run children’s centres across its area and will involve parents closely in decision-making about how the centre is run. This will be piloted in up to five local areas and, on average, these will be made up of 20–25 centres.
• To give more control to tenants over housing services, such as maintaining the grounds of their housing estate, cleaning and caretaking services, the Government will develop a ‘fast track’ route to establish Local Management Agreements (LMAs) or small scale management services. It currently takes 18 months and the Government is working on halving this time.
• The Government will encourage smaller community housing project bids by immediately removing the current lower limit of 50 units for applications involving Public Land Initiative sites. This will help facilitate smaller, community-led proposals.
• The Government has confirmed it will investigate continued access to the NHS pension scheme to those NHS staff transferred to mutual organisations, as well as other social enterprises and third sector organisations. This will reassure many staff who want the freedom of working in a new type of organisation, without losing the benefits of working for the NHS.
Government will work with Strategic Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts to develop detailed proposals on mandating community governance in the Right to Request Assurance Framework. In 2008 the Government created Right to Request, under which NHS staff are empowered to set up a social enterprise.