Labour business lead talks up hopes for boosting co-op sector

Jonathan Reynolds reiterated Labour’s plans to double the size of the co-op and mutual economy

Labour/Co-op business spokesperson Jonathan Reynolds has talked up his hopes for boosting the UK co-op sector under a new Labour government.

Speaking via video at the UK’s Co-op Congress on 14 June, Reynolds said he was “incredibly proud to be a member of Parliament that’s jointly sponsored by the Labour and Co-operative parties. And, because I live in and represent East Manchester, I know the tremendous history and contemporary benefits the co-operative sector delivers.”

The shadow secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy under the last government, Reynolds highlighted Labour’s plans to double the size of the co-op and mutual economy – “something that’s been an ambition of so many of us for so long because we know we can do it. And we know the difference it would make”. 

“But,” he added, “what I’m really personally excited about is potentially being the first ever Co-op business secretary [which could] open up the kind of environment at the top of government that will allow so many of you to grow and succeed and for more people to join what we know is a sector that delivers resilience, prosperity, good jobs and good opportunities in every part of the UK.”

Reynolds was referring to the fact that he would be the first Labour/Co-op MP to hold the post of business secretary, rather than a specific post for the sector.

A dedicated minister for the sector – which several countries, including Spain and France, having in place – is one of the asks presented in a letter to leaders of the main UK political parties, co-signed by Robert Kelly (CEO, Abcul), Andrew Whyte (CEO, Association of Financial Mutuals), Robin Feith (CEO, Building Societies Association) and Rose Marley (CEO, Co-operatives UK). The letter calls for the appointment of a minister for mutuals and co-operatives, alongside a British business bank fund for new and existing mutuals and co-operatives and the delivery of the recommendations of the Law Commission review.

Also speaking in the session was Jim McMahon, chair of the Co-op Party, who said Labour’s manifesto launch on Thursday 13 June “was a pretty good day for co-operators – a lot of what we’ve been talking about for a long time has been secured in Labour’s manifesto for government”.

McMahon said the last 14 year of Conservative government had “held back and impoverished” the country and communities, and “slowly eroded away the fabric of society”, highlighting how over 75,000 community assets have been lost in the last decade.

This election could be an opportunity to come full circle, he said, bring people back to co-ops and “reconnecting people with what it means to be a community”.

“We want to be ambitious,” added Co-op Party general secretary, Joe Fortune, “and doubling the size of the sector is a way of talking about that ambition … but with this comes responsibility. We need to be the ones that driving that growth, showing what it means to be a co-op, why it matters and how we’re going to do it.”

The party is committed to ensuring supportive legislation and regulation is in place for co-ops, and that they have development support and access to finance, said Fortune. “The Co-op Party will be working hard on this over the next few weeks, but also afterwards. 

A challenge from the Building Societies Association CEO, Robin Feith, asked the panel: “How inclusive of the wider mutual economy a new Labour government would be prepared to be?”

“There’s a remarkable amount of energy in co-ops and mutuals,” said Fortune. “Co-ops and mutuals spend a lot of time defending against each other, but I would encourage colleagues to seize opportunities when they come along, and an opportunity is exactly what we have here.”

  • This article was amended on 17 June; it previously stated that Jonathan Reynolds had announced a dedicated post of co-op business secretary, when he was referring to the his ambition to become first Labour/Co-op MP to hold the role of business secretary