Welsh co-operators salute Mark Drakeford as he steps down as first minister

‘Mark Drakeford has been a strong advocate for the co-operative movement in Wales throughout his time as first minister’

Wales’ first minister Mark Drakeford is to resign from the post in March after five years in the role – which has seen him work closely with the co-op sector on a number of projects.

Drakeford, 69, said he wanted a new leader in place by the next Westminster general election. “When I stood for the leadership, I said that, if elected, I would serve for five years,” he added. “Exactly five years have passed since I was confirmed as first minister in 2018.

“Nominations for my successor as Welsh Labour leader will open shortly. The process will be concluded by the end of the spring term, to enable the name of the winner to be put to the Senedd before the Easter recess. In the meantime, I remain your first minister.”

He added: “In a five-year period, which has seen Wales deal with austerity, Brexit, the Covid pandemic, the climate crisis, wars in Ukraine and the Middle East and four different prime ministers – so far – there will be lots to reflect on.

“The next Welsh Labour leader and first minister will, I hope, have the opportunity, which has not come my way, to work with a newly elected Labour government in London. I will work as hard as I can to see that Labour government elected.”

The news comes after the Welsh government faced protests over 20mph speed limits in Wales, and criticism from opposition party Plaid Cymru over the performance of health and education services. Ministers also face tough spending decisions amid a continued financial squeeze.

The government also continues its efforts to develop the co-op and mutuals sector in Wales, including its support for the Banc Cymru project to open a community bank with branches across the country, and work with credit unions and co-ops in the housing and care sectors.

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Bethan Webber, CEO of Welsh co-op development agency Cwmpas, said: “Mark Drakeford has been a strong advocate for the co-operative movement in Wales throughout his time as first minister. We would like to thank him for his public service to the people of Wales and his commitment to building a stronger, more equal country. 

“We look forward to working with candidates for the first minister’s role to develop policies that create a fairer and greener economy. We are passionate about the potential of co-operatives, social enterprises and communities and will continue to advocate for their role at the heart of Wales’ future economic strategy.”

David Smith, secretary of Co-ops and Mutuals Wales, said: “Mark Drakeford brought dignity, intelligence to public office during most challenging of years. He advocated a cultural shift in the way in which co-operatives are viewed, from a solution of last resort to co-operative solutions being the model of choice.  

“This was evidenced in his 2018 leadership election manifesto and in pioneering a Labour / Plaid co-operation agreement building upon  shared values of social solidarity, sustainability and democracy.

“These included support for credit unions, social care and housing co-ops, a Welsh community bank, construction, and community energy mutuals. Whilst much more needs to be done, he played a crucial role in giving us hope. It’s now up to others to grasp these opportunities.”

James Wright, head of policy and development at Co-operatives UK, said: “During Mark Drakeford’s time as first minister, the co-operative economy in Wales grew faster than the UK overall. Last year, Wales led the UK in co-op start-ups. Mark’s administration has been strong in its support of the democratic economy. We hope the next first minister builds on Mark’s legacy.”