The development of co-operatives must be central to transforming Wales’ economic fortunes, according to a report on the future of the sector in the country.
Two years ago, the Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission was formed to make recommendations on a plan to grow and develop the co-operative and mutual economy in Wales.
Its main conclusion found that conventional approaches to economic growth and development are in themselves not sufficient to strengthen the social and economic wellbeing of people within the Welsh borders.
“Co-operatives and mutuals offer significant economic, social and environmental benefits compared with ordinary businesses,” concluded the document.
Professor Andrew Davies, chair of the Commission, said: “The intellectual and political climate has changed radically and this has been reflected in the nature of the political debate, with increasing discussion about an ‘ethical’ or ‘socially responsible’ capitalism.
“This widespread disillusionment has led many people to look for alternative, more ethical and socially responsible ways of organising businesses and services, particularly those run on a co-operative, mutual or not-for-profit basis.”
The report makes recommendations across a number of areas, including the implementation of a co-op ethos at all levels of education and the strengthening of business advice that encourages the establishment of co-operatives and mutuals.
It sets out a blueprint on how the sector can make an even greater contribution to the economy, through initiatives such as a loan and grants fund to stimulate growth, plus the creation of community development finance institutions (CDFIs) to enable capital investment in the transfer of land and community assets.
For these recommendations to be achieved, the Commission also calls on the co-operative movement to collaborate with policymakers and to come together to increase its voice, influence and capacity.
Prof Davies concluded: “The Commission … believes that a historic opportunity has opened up for an alternative approach to economic development, public policy and service provision, one based on mutualism, co-operation and shared ownership, creating the opportunity for better government and a fairer society. We believe that this can also contribute to the restoration of trust in government and the ways in which our economy and society are organised.”
Derek Walker, chief executive of the Wales Co-operative Centre, welcomed the publication of the report and acknowledged the Commission’s leadership and innovative approach. He said: “It makes some bold and ambitious recommendations which, if implemented, could accelerate growth in an already dynamic and innovative sector.
“The co-operative sector has been a part of our society and culture in Wales for two centuries. Individuals in Wales have always worked together to achieve common aims. From the co-operative societies in the Valleys to the miners’ libraries of the early 20th century, co-operative approaches are part of our history and our culture.“