With the ongoing economic crisis and the prospect of falling living standards and reduced public services for years to come it would be easy for co-operators to feel pessimistic, but the market failures that caused that crisis and the growing inequalities in our society highlight the need for and the availability of co-operative alternatives.
The last decade has demonstrated the desire for forms of enterprise that are accountable to key stakeholders and put stakeholders' needs at the heart of the business, rather than short term shareholder value. That is why we have seen the growth of community shops, community pubs, leisure trusts, football supporters trusts and a co-operative alternative to the creeping privatisation of the education system.
The United Nations International Year of Co-operatives 2012, provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to mainstream co-operation .
"Liberalisation reforms" are now being applied to all parts of the education system in England. That is why the College's Strategic Plan focuses on mainstreaming a co-operative alternative. By early 2012, 200 schools will have completed the process of conversion to co-operative trusts or co-operative academies, and our aim is to double this in just over a year.
With the 'liberalisation' in Further and Higher Education it is likely that the first College to convert to a PLC will happen in the next year, along with the first Co-operative Further Education College.
The stagnant economy is impacting hard on young people. Can we build on the Young Co-operative models in schools and support for youth co-operatives in Africa to develop similar models in the UK to help tackle youth unemployment?
Whilst there may not be co-operative solutions for every walk of life, the economic challenges bring real opportunities for building a stronger, more diverse co-operative sector.