Ed Balls calls on Labour and Co-operative parties to ‘work together’

Co-operative principles will underpin the Labour Party’s proposals on health care, banking and energy reform, confirmed shadow chancellor Ed Balls. Addressing delegates at the Co-operative Party’s annual conference...

Co-operative principles will underpin the Labour Party’s proposals on health care, banking and energy reform, confirmed shadow chancellor Ed Balls. Addressing delegates at the Co-operative Party’s annual conference in London, he asked them to “stick together” to build an economy and society that “works for all and not just the few”.

The shadow chancellor began his speech with a story about a successful co-operative in his constituency. Set up in 2012, after the closure of two local Remploy factories, Enabled Works is today an award-winning worker co-operative. It provides employment for 12 disabled people, all former employees of Remploy, and work experience for another seven volunteers.

Ed Balls believes Enabled Works shows how co-operative values and solidarity are crucial to achieving trust, innovation and dynamism in a modern economy. “These are values fundamental to the relationship between the Labour and the Co-operative Party,” he said. Asked whether the Labour Party would change take-over rules, he added: “I want to do anything I can to allow co-ops and social enterprises to succeed and grow […] And if there’s a way that you can have the employees taking over and making it a success in the future, that’s something we should be supporting, definitely.”

According to the Mr Balls, an incoming Labour government would work to increase competition within the banking and energy sectors. “The good thing is we have independent competition authorities in our country and, following pressure form Labour and Co-op MPs, what we’ve seen is independent competition authorities responding. There are now big investigations into banking and into energy.

“In the case of banking, it’s hard to bring in more competition by establishing new challenger banks,” he said. “The regulation is difficult, the financial structures are tough, but we need more competition because at the moment our banking and our consumer lending markets are much too concentrated. We are committed to getting more competition in and reducing the number of branches for the biggest banks.” Ed Balls added that the Labour Party would also back the campaign to create a military credit union.

He also explained how things were happening in “a more organic way” in the energy sector, with different companies being allowed to come in, including community energy schemes and co-operatives.

“That’s something, again, which I hope the independent competition inquiry is going to look at. We’ll see what they say. But definitely, we want more diversity, more choice, and, I think, a stronger role for mutuals.” As well as freezing energy prices, Labour will create a new energy regulator. Ed Balls explained that Labour’s energy team, led by Caroline Flint and Tom Greater, concluded that Ofgem had not delivered.

“We need to reset the market and a new tough regulator that will care about both consumers and the long term needs of investment,” he said.

In terms of health care, Mr Balls said co-operative principles would form the basis of Labour’s plans for reform. “I think an NHS which works for profit […] turns out to be not only unfair, but actually more expensive, so there’s good Treasury reasons to have a health service based on co-operation, on good planning and putting the needs of patients first.” He argued that by bringing together social care and the NHS, with a common plan and pulling budgets together, a Labour government would deliver a better service and make savings.

The plans to integrate health and social care have been criticised for being too expensive, but Ed Balls says this will not be the case. “I think that sometimes people think if you’re going for a co-operative solution, is that going to cost you more? This is a really good example where co-operation can deliver better outcomes and better value for money too.”

Labour will also promote co-operative schools and stop the opening of free schools, he said. Echoing Gareth Thomas, chair of the Co-operative Party, the shadow chancellor said it has been a difficult year for the co-operative movement. “Some societies think that weakening or breaking the link is the right thing to do, but that would be a massive mistake”. He added that the party needed “to do more to win the argument to secure a fair future”.

Highlighting some of the achievements of the labour, co-operative and trade union movements, such as a free National Health Service and education for all, the shadow chancellor said they had achieved these by working together, in co-operation. He also insisted that an incoming Labour government would not make “irresponsible commitments that they can’t pay for”.

“We are part of a movement which has been going for well over 100 years, and are part of a Co-operative Party which came together at the beginning of last century to fight social justice.” Now, in the 21st century, “challenges are different, but not less important”, he said.

“By common endeavour we achieve more than we can achieve alone.”

For more from the Co-operative Party annual conference, click here

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