After winning an outright majority in the 2015 general election, the Conservative Party has gained control of the House of Commons.
With a Conservative government, what can the co-operative sector expect? In its manifesto, the party writes about the Big Society being a “vision of a more engaged nation, one in which we take more responsibility for ourselves and our neighbours; communities working together, not depending on remote and impersonal bureaucracies”.
“There are also many areas of national life in which we need more people to step forward, take responsibility and play their part,” added the manifesto. “This is about a national culture change, saying to everyone in Britain: ask what you can do for your community and your country.”
In his speech to the Conservative Party conference last year, David Cameron said: “I care deeply about those who struggle to get by, but I believe the best thing to do is help them stand on their own two feet – and no, that’s not saying ‘you’re on your own’, but ‘we are on your side, helping you be all you can’.
“And I believe in something for something; not something for nothing. Those who do the right thing, put the effort in, who work and build communities – these are the people who should be rewarded.”
These extracts from the manifesto highlight the opportunities for co-operatives:
Building the Big Society: “We will give more people the power and support to run a school, start their own social enterprise, and take over their own local parks, landmarks and pubs. We will encourage the 1,400 communities engaged in neighbourhood planning to complete the process and assist others to draw up their own plans. And we will take new steps to encourage volunteering, enabling more people to join the unsung heroes who are the backbone of communities across Britain.”
Better public services: “We have supported the growth of public service mutuals – organisations that are owned by their staff and deliver public services. We want more of them, so we will guarantee a ‘right to mutualise’ within the public sector. This will free up the entrepreneurial spirit of public servants and yield better value for money for taxpayers.”
Financing co-operatives: “We will improve our support for investment into start-ups and roll-out our innovative Help to Grow scheme, which will plug a £1 billion finance gap for firms that are looking to expand, invest and take on new employees.”
Supporting credit unions: “Our plan is to ensure banks help secure our recovery and back businesses to create jobs and growth in our economy. We capped payday lenders, made it easier for you to switch your bank account and will continue to support the credit union movement in making financial services more accessible. We will continue the successful Funding for Lending scheme into 2016.”
Community ownership: “We know how important it is to preserve vital community assets such as pubs, town halls and sports facilities, so we will strengthen the Community Right to Bid that we created We will extend the length of time communities have to purchase these assets, and require owners to set a clear ‘reserve’ price for the community to aim for when bidding. We will set up a Pub Loan Fund to enable community groups to obtain small loans to pay for feasibility work, lawyers’ fees, or materials for refurbishment, where they have bid to run the pub as part of our reforms to the Community Asset Register.”