Milton Keynes Council has become the first local authority under no overall control to declare itself co-operative. The council became “a co-operative council, improving services and citizen empowerment” at its full meeting on 10 September.
It agreed to adopt co-operative values and principles and to “re-think the role of councillors as community connectors, brokers and leaders”.
Forwarding the motion, Cllr Sarah Betteley (Labour and Co-op Party), cabinet member responsible for community engagement and empowerment, said ongoing financial pressure meant the council must continue to make savings. She highlighted “the changing nature of the relationship between council, councillors, citizens and partners,” and “the role that co-operative and mutual principles can play in shaping a new dynamic”.
“We will strengthen the co-operative partnership between citizens, communities, enterprises and councils, based on a shared sense of responsibility for well-being and mutual benefit,” she said.
The council resolved to adopt co-operative values and principles including social partnership, democratic engagement, co-production, enterprise and social economy and maximising social value. Central to the agreement are the principles of community leadership and a new role for councillors, with the council agreeing to explore ways it could help the community contribute to local outcomes. The aim is to enable citizens to be equal partners in designing and commissioning services and determining the use of resources.
Cllr Betteley agreed to bring forward ideas on how to increase public engagement and participation in cabinet meetings and decision making. The council’s constitution commission will make suggestions on how to increase public participation in council business.
Council, cabinet and officers will consider the principles when formulating policy and encourage new models of meeting priority needs, such as co-operatives and mutuals. The council also pledged to capture and expand learning from co-operative projects to encourage broader application of co-operative principles.
Deputy leader Cllr Hannah O’Neill (Labour and Co-op Party) said the move had been spearheaded by council leader Peter Marland (Labour and Co-op Party), but embraced by all parties. “We’ve all really bought into it, including councillors in the other two parties,” she said. “The debate was a positive debate. This is a culture change. I haven’t come across any resistance to it yet.”
Cllr O’Neill is cabinet member with responsibility for housing and regeneration, and said officers were already moving towards co-operation, for example by looking at social value in procurement of new roofs for council houses and by developing a new rent policy in partnership with tenants. “It’s important that we work together to deliver better services,” she said.