Co-operatives can be the model to run the UK

Government adviser Will Hutton has told the Co-operative Movement to seize the moment to promote co-operation throughout the country.

During his keynote speech to Congress, Mr Hutton, appointed by Chancellor George Osborne to conduct a review of fair pay in the public sector, invited co-operatives to make a representation to the review showing how co-operatives would promote equality. 

He is also Chair of the Commission on Ownership, which is examining ownership structures and public services.

He said: “The idea of PLCs need fixing, the ownership structure needs revisiting. One thing for sure is that more co-operatives and mutuals needs to be in the financial network for a more diverse economy. 

“We need a diversity of ownership structures and we need to turn around the decline of building societies and the decline of the mutual insurance movement — both fantastic institutions.”

Following on from the recession and collapse of financial markets across the world, Mr Hutton argued that the current form of capitalism is on its way out: “For 30 years we’ve lived with the view, and accepted it, that market capitalism is the best way to wealth generation and innovation. But, we have accepted the capitalist view of how to make capitalism work, they’ve told us — and we’ve accepted it —that actually capitalism works best if those who run it eat what they kill and greed is good. 

“The only thing that matters for an individual is that he or she can amass a personal fortune and that the only thing that matters for an organisation is it maximises shareholder value. That doctrine has, in many respects, made the events of 2008 as important as the events of 1989/91 where we saw the collapse of communism wall, the collapse of the Berlin.”

The Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition is looking for a new model to strengthen the UK, according to Mr Hutton. 

He told Congress: “There is a sweet moment in time where this coalition government and indeed the Labour Party are asking tough questions about how capitalism is organised, about how we need a variety of ownership structures. We need to revive notions of purpose, need to make certain that pay is much more proportional and be aware of the impact of equality on our society. This is probably the best moment for this Movement.”

Although, Mr Hutton, executive vice-chair of The Work Foundation, said co-operatives must focus its efforts on single business streams — a single purpose: “Here is a challenge to the Movement. It’s not enough to just be a co-operative and co-operate issues of proportionality in a way that you organise the gains of trading both for the employees and for your customers. 

“If you just make the purpose of the co-operative that, I think it’s necessary, but insufficient. Co-operatives need a declared purpose and to organise themselves to do something around the co-operative and mutual principle. For example building societies are here just to lend money to people to buy a house. That is its purpose.”

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