The Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission: What’s next for Wales?

It is vital the co-operative movement gets behind the recent recommendations from the Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission report, according to Derek Walker. Here, the chief executive of the...

It is vital the co-operative movement gets behind the recent recommendations from the Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission report, according to Derek Walker. Here, the chief executive of the Wales Co-operative Centre outlines how ideas in all areas of Wales’s economy can be implemented …

Who will deliver the recommendations in the report?
It will need to be a collaborative approach. The co-operative movement itself will be critically important. Many of the commission’s recommendations come from the movement. It is vital that we get behind the report. But many other people and organisations will need to be involved too.

At the Wales Co-operative Centre (WCC) we want to do everything we can to see these recommendations delivered, working with and learning from partners such as Co-operatives UK, the Plunkett Foundation and the Schools Co-operative Society.

What are the key opportunities?
There are many. Strengthening business support for the sector is obviously close to the heart of WCC. Our experience has shown that advice provided by mainstream business support channels is often not appropriate to those looking to set up co-ops or mutuals. It is therefore essential that funding for specialist support continues and that we look at innovative ways of providing this.

Ensuring that co-operative and mutual business models are taught as part of mainstream business and management qualifications provides a major opportunity to ensure the co-operative way of doing business becomes a more popular option.

The recommendations relating to the Welsh education system have the potential to be transformative.

There is also a major opportunity if the recommendation to embed co-operative and mutual business models into the Welsh Government’s mandatory sustainable development commitment is taken forward. This will mean these models will have to be actively considered when forming new policies.

What are the challenges?
A big challenge will be to ensure momentum is maintained. The report is a blueprint for putting co-operation at the heart of Welsh society, and it is important that work to take the recommendations forward begins without delay. I believe this can be addressed through sustained effort by all those who want to see the recommendations become reality.

How realistic are the recommendations?
The recommendations are ambitious but achievable. Making a co-operative ethos the central organising principle of the education system in Wales won’t happen overnight, but is extremely positive.

Some bits require legislation and that takes time too, for instance so that communities can list assets of community value and have first right of refusal on purchasing them. But other recommendations are already moving forward well. Discussions are already taking place about the future of business support and the WCC is leading work to establish new finance for employee buy-outs.

What is the WCC’s focus now in terms of the report?
Our immediate focus is to lead a short consultation exercise on the report’s recommendations on behalf of the Welsh government. Our goal for the months and years ahead is to ensure these innovative recommendations are taken forward. We believe there is significant potential for growth in the co-operative sector in Wales. This report provides the blueprint for that growth.

Who are your key partners and allies?
WCC will take a leading role, but we are just one of a number of organisations. Key partners include Co-operatives UK, Community Housing Cymru, the Co-operative Party and the Co-operative Group.

Welsh government and Welsh councils will be essential in creating the framework required within the public sector for delivering the recommendations.

The commission took evidence from a wide range of people and organisations and was itself was made up of individuals with a huge amount of expertise and experience. I hope those involved will continue to be able to play a role.

The report provides a fantastic opportunity for people to come together and really embed co-operation into the fabric of Welsh society, not just in areas where we’re already strong in Wales, but also in sectors where co-operation can offer innovative approaches to address important issues, such as education and social care.

Can the wider co-operative movement help?
It can play a big role. The recommendations can’t be implemented by a handful of organisations, working top-down. For example we have a huge amount to learn from the success of the co-operative schools movement in England.

We can learn from good practice elsewhere through the networks of Co-operatives UK and the International Co-operative Alliance. Co-operatives around the globe will serve as inspiration for our work in Wales.

WCC’s vision is for Wales to be an international leader for co-operative thinking and action. The recommendations in this report go a long way to helping us achieve that. Support from the wider movement will be essential.

• Read the recommendations made by the Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission.

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