Wales Co-operative Centre

Canolfan Cydweithredol Cymru

Posts Tagged ‘Wales

How will the new UK Government Digital Inclusion Strategy help tackle poverty in Wales?

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This month, the UK Government published its updated Digital Inclusion Strategy.  Dave Brown, Director of Strategic Development and Performance at the Wales Co-operative Centre, asks what this might mean for Wales.

The UK Government Digital Inclusion Strategy describes succinctly the scale of the digital exclusion issue as it affects the whole of the UK.

“Today, the web has 2.4 billion users worldwide. To put this incredible speed of adoption in some context, radio took 38 years to reach 50 million users, television took 13 years, web took 4 years and Facebook took just 10 months. In 2013, 89% of young people now use a smartphone or tablet to go online, up from 43% in 2010.

The web has transformed almost every aspect of public, private and work life. It has underpinned our new economy; from changing the way every workplace communicates to creating entire new industries. It is reshaping government through improved public services and improving transparency through open data.

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And it has improved people’s lives, whether through cutting household bills, finding a job or maintaining contact with distant friends and relatives. For business and voluntary organisations, going online can provide ways to reach more customers and reduce operating costs. The internet also provides broader benefits, by helping to address wider social and economic issues like reducing isolation and improving health.”

So what is to be done about the half million or so people in Wales who are left behind: those that lack the skills, confidence, motivation or opportunity to get online?  There is little in the UK Government document that relates to our specific Welsh context.  What we have got in Wales is a proud history of putting our money where our mouth is, when it comes to funding digital inclusion support.  The Welsh Government’s Communities 2.0 programme is run by the Wales Co-operative Centre, and has had a huge impact on the lives of those most excluded and most affected by poverty.

As Wales moves on from Communities 2.0, to the next phase of digital inclusion support, we need to build on the strong foundations of partnership laid down by Communities 2.0 initiatives.  Yes, practical digital inclusion activities need to be integrated into the mainstream.  But for this to be effective it needs support, coordination and leadership.  Nothing like the revolution in information and communication described in the UK Government document has ever happened before. As Wales, as a nation, responds to this challenge, it seems right to give the issue the particular attention that only a dedicated strategic project can bring.

Written by Mark Smith

November 17, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Centre announces second Tackling Poverty Fortnight campaign

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Tackling poverty is one of the Welsh Government’s top priorities.

With this in mind, the Wales Co-operative Centre is about to embark on its latest anti-poverty campaign. ‘Tackling Poverty Fortnight’ will run from 13th – 26th January 2015. The campaign will promote solutions that are helping people in our most disadvantaged communities. It will seek to highlight new approaches that could make a big difference to reducing poverty levels in Wales in the future.

The inaugural campaign, held almost exactly one year ago, received public recognition from AMs in the Senedd, with a series of blog posts demonstrating the ways in which the Centre’s work supports the wider tackling poverty agenda in Wales.

This time around, we will again be showing how our work provides co-operative solutions to tackling poverty but we are also doing something different and exciting. We are writing to a number of organisations around the UK, that are all involved in work that aims to reduce poverty in some way, to invite them to identify new ways of reducing poverty in Wales in the future.

We’re asking these organisations to submit ideas in the form of blog posts. Each idea needs to be something that is not already happening in Wales – at least not on a large scale. Ideally it should be something which is having a demonstrable impact in reducing poverty in the UK or globally but could be rolled out or adapted to work in Wales.

The blog posts need to be submitted by mid-December and will then be published during ‘Tackling Poverty Fortnight’ (13th-26th January). The publicity for each idea may, in itself, be enough to give it the momentum it needs to become a reality in Wales. We will gauge reaction from the ideas and are keen to work with interested parties to take some of the ideas forward.

Our campaign was first mentioned at this week’s ‘Towards a Wales Without Poverty’ conference, hosted by the Bevan Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Foundation. During this event, policy experts, researchers and practitioners led debates that largely looked at how poverty in other parts of the UK had a bearing on Wales and whether approaches that were being taken to reduce poverty elsewhere could work here.

During the conference, my colleagues Dave Brown and Matthew Lloyd ran a breakout session that looked at how digital inclusion work, primarily through Communities 2.0, was not only hugely relevant to the poverty debate but how it was helping to tackle poverty in disadvantaged communities.

The conference painted a bleak picture at times, paying particular attention to child poverty, in-work poverty and how issues such as the living wage, Universal Credit, food banks, equal pay, government strategies, piloting anti-poverty schemes, poverty in rural areas, valley areas and cities are all relevant factors that are very much in the melting pot when it comes to the issue of poverty in Wales.

We’re interested to see what kind of response we get to our invitation to organisations, to provide ideas to reduce poverty in Wales to help make some sort of improvement.

Written by Mark Smith

November 6, 2014 at 11:29 am

Closing the Jaws of Doom: co-operative approaches to public service delivery

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The “Jaws of Doom” describes the shape you see if you plot a graph showing increasing demand for public services (driven by an ageing population) and reducing public sector resources to meet that need.  It’s this tension that is driving severe cuts in some areas and market commercialisation in other parts of the UK.

That was the background to today’s “Reshaping Services with the Public” conference held by the Wales Audit Office in collaboration with partners including the Wales Co-operative Centre.  The conference was about changing the relationship between those who deliver and people who use services.

The premise is that too many public services are still delivered from the perspective of single service deliverers. The leads to citizens experiencing multiple, fragmented approaches that can result in contradictory and conflicting interventions, poor outcomes for the service user, waste of valuable resources and poor value for money.

An example of a 'jaws of doom' graph

An example of a ‘jaws of doom’ graph

Keynote speaker Professor Tony Bovaird from Birmingham University argued for a radical change in the way we co-commission, co-design, co-deliver and co-assess public services.  We need to centre services on the user, gain their consent and harness their time and the time of others in the community to complement resources paid for from public money.

This sounds a lot like a co-operative model to us.  The Wales Co-operative Centre supports co-operatives and social businesses, and that includes assisting local councils who are considering externalising services to new social businesses.  We help ensure that the perspectives of service users and staff are hard-wired into the governance structures of new enterprises.  We support business plans that stack up financially but are driven by the needs of service users and by broader social good.  This is in sharp contrast to privatisation approaches, where service users can be objectified, and ineffective delivery models can be contractually perpetuated.

And at the Wales Co-operative Centre we try to practice what we preach.  We deliver the Wales Government’s Communities 2.0 digital inclusion programme, and the volunteering model used is a lovely model of co-delivery.  The people the programme helps can themselves become volunteers and influence what the programme delivers.  Not only does this mean value for money but it ensures that the programme stays fresh and relevant to the needs of people who are digitally excluded.

Today’s conference marks the beginning of a long journey for public services in Wales.  If we keep with us co-operative values and explore co-operative models of service delivery, we would be well on our way.

Written by Dave Brown

July 17, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Congratulations to Siop Y Bobl on the launch of their new shop premises

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Today, one of the co-operatives the Wales Co-operative Centre helped set up in Gower is launching its new village shop premises.

Siop Y Bobl in Llanmadoc was formed by a group of volunteers from the village after the shop and post office that serviced the village closed down. The Wales Co-operative Centre helped the group to set up as a co-operative (registered as an Industrial and Provident Society) and helped develop their business plan.

The shop now provides a wide range of products from fresh goods, home baking, frozen and chilled foods, an off-license, post office and coffee shop. It buys its produce and goods from local producers or suppliers, helping to keep them in business and retaining income in the area.

Siop y Bobl has won numerous awards including the Welsh Volunteers Award, the Best New Business Award, Best Village in South Wales and Best Community in Wales. The members attribute part of their success to the advice they have received from the co-operative movement. Membership is open to anyone in the area who wants to join – without them Siop y Bobl would not exist.

One of the most significant benefits of the co-operative comes from its 50 plus volunteers, many of whom are local people who have retired. The shop is a “social hub” where people can meet and get together on a daily basis, especially people who live on their own and would not see other people.

Siop y Bobl firmly believes that having co-operative principles has meant that a “dying rural community” has been able to thrive. They purchase from 37 local or very local businesses which also helps the wider Welsh economy. Siop y Bobl has faced a number of challenges along the way, especially relating to its premises. After a long period of planning and construction the business has now moved into new premises on the main road through the village.

At the Wales Co-operative Centre we have been proud to support this community enterprise and wish them well in their new premises and for a long future as the hub of the community of Llanmadoc.

Branwen Ellis is a Business Consultant at the Wales Co-operative Centre. She is an expert on co-operatives, social enterprises and governance.

Written by David Madge

May 23, 2014 at 10:33 am

Financial education…..it’s complicated, but not impossible

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Martin Lewis says ‘The modern UK has a nasty debt habit’ and he is right. I don’t say this from a judgmental perspective (and I am sure he doesn’t either). But, if you take a step back and look objectively at how we manage our personal money lives I don’t think many people would disagree.

The alarming rise of pay day lenders, their use, and attempts to curb their use, is only one symptom of the problem. So is legislation and regulation the answer? Should financial literacy be a compulsory part of the curriculum and local authorities have a duty to promote financial inclusion?

As anyone that reads my blogs regularly might predict, my answer to that is …it’s complicated.

Research from a plethora of sources, including the Money Advice Service, shows that young people learn about money primarily from their parents. The financial environment that they, as families, live in is demanding and complicated. Input at school would help, but these messages need to be echoed at home. This means that some parents need to learn to manage their money better, first.

Then there is the matter of financial services. It’s all very well to tell people to be ‘prudent’. Life’s ups and downs are often partnered with money ups and downs. If someone needs to borrow a small amount and the bank won’t lend it to them, where do they go? Sadly more and more people are turning to pay day lenders instead of responsible lenders like credit unions.

Interestingly, for some, the introduction of much more stringent ‘money behaviour’ checks for mortgage applications may be surprisingly effective at changing attitudes to money. No longer will the use of pay day loans (whether paid off, or not) be acceptable – and I am not surprised. It may only be a matter of time before other kinds of lending follow suit. Indeed many credit unions already have these conversations with borrowers.

The National Assembly for Wales is currently considering a proposal for a Financial Education and Inclusion Bill. Take a look at our response to the consultation related to this Bill. It’s complicated, but not impossible.

Reflecting on the last 12 months – part 1

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With the new financial year barely a week old, Derek Walker, our Chief Executive, has taken the opportunity to look back on the last twelve months at the Wales Co-operative Centre….

Derek Walker

Derek Walker

I was recently looking through the posts on our blog site from the last twelve months. I was struck by the realisation that we have covered an awful lot of ground as an organisation. In addition, the scale of our output is matched by the quality and impact of our work.

It’s a healthy thing to look back at what has gone before, as you can learn from experience and take confidence from what has gone well. Another thing that occurred to me was the rich diversity of our work.

Since the start of the last financial year, some new clients have emerged. To highlight just a few – AFS in Swansea, where former Remploy staff came together to form a worker co-operative that has already proven successful. The Cambrian Village Trust social enterprise, in Clydach Vale, was supported to open a new, world class, all-weather football pitch. PS Services, a social business run by mental health charity Gofal, won the ‘One to Watch’ category at the UK Social Enterprise Awards. Many other businesses that we’ve supported have gone from strength to strength, showing that co-operatives and social enterprises are models for growth, as well as sustainability.

Elsewhere in the Centre, we’ve received additional funding from Welsh Government and the European Regional Development Fund to expand the area covered by Communities 2.0, to now help people in the most deprived parts of Cardiff, Newport, Vale of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire make the most of computers and the Internet. Communities 2.0 has also seen a number of county-wide initiatives launch in the last year, heavily based on strong partnership work – bringing the people and organisations together than can make a real difference.

Accommodation Furniture Solutions Ltd

Accommodation Furniture Solutions Ltd

Our co-operative housing project has been extended for another two years. More groups around Wales are talking to us, and our partners, about the potential to develop co-operative housing schemes in their community, giving people more direct control over their living arrangements.

The year’s watershed moment came with the publication of the Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission report. Led by Professor Andrew Davies, the Commission has concluded that “conventional approaches to economic growth and development are not sufficient alone to achieve the improvement in the social and economic wellbeing of people in Wales”, adding “co-operatives and mutuals offer significant economic, social and environmental benefits compared with ordinary businesses. Their development must be central to transforming Wales’ economic fortunes”. These words come as a clarion call to those involved in the co-operatives and mutuals sector, as well as those on the fringes who have yet to realise the full potential of co-operative approaches to economic development. The report’s recommendations are currently being discussed at a series of consultation events and it will be interesting to hear how others think they should be taken forward. The report’s recommendations have the Centre’s full support.

Join us for the second part of this blog post, later in the week…

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