Although its recommendations might be confined to Wales, the findings of the Welsh Co-operative and Mutual Commission should be heeded by everyone interested in growing the UK co-operative economy.
The Commission has set out how they see co-operatives and mutuals providing solutions to the challenges faced by the Welsh people, most starkly in economic and social terms. As the Commission put it: “… new ways of organising economic activity are needed, in which co-operation and mutuality are fundamental principles.”
But, is this only true in Wales? The same challenges described by the Commission in their report are surely faced by people up and down the UK, and the possible co-operative solutions are just as widely applicable too.
Co-operatives have the potential to combat inequality and social deprivation, while forming the foundation of a social economy that ensures the needs of people are met in an era when fiscal pressures constrain the actions of the state.
Add in the effectiveness of co-operative models in organising citizen action on issues as diverse as rural decline, an ageing population and climate change, and all this should leave policymakers not just in Wales, but UK-wide, in no doubt of the great good co-operatives can do.
Some of the most innovative, thought-provoking and undoubtedly challenging of the Commission’s recommendations are about how to finance growth. The idea of a grant and loan fund, requiring financial and administrative contributions from co-operatives, certainly catches the eye.
The Commission also rightly emphasises the importance of sound business models, with the finance available going only to viable, value-creating co-operative enterprises. This sets high standards for co-operative entrepreneurs and business development workers. Community and employee share capital features too.
As such, the report is a call to action, not just for politicians, but also for co-operators and communities. Given our movement’s core values and principles, state-led co-operation is something of an oxymoron; and in any case, government support will only go so far.
Spurred on by the Commissions’ recommendations for Wales, co-operatives across the UK must work together to build strategic capacity, and play a central role in their own development.
At the heart of the report is the message that, while government support is needed, co-operators and communities have big roles to play in the creation of a more co-operative economy and society, and this is as true in Sunderland as it is in Swansea. If the Welsh Government moves from welcome political support to firm action, as we hope it will, what happens in Wales could set an example for uniting the movement and growing the UK co-operative economy.