Wales Co-operative Centre celebrates 30 years as champion of co-operative values
June 25 – July 9 is Co-operatives Fortnight, an annual event which highlights the value of co-operative businesses to the UK economy. The Wales Co-operative Centre is one of the organisations which will be celebrating Co-operatives Fortnight
It’s nearly 30 years since the Wales TUC set up the Wales Co-operative Centre to help save jobs during the 1980s recession, and it has been creating employment and helping to improve lives ever since then.
Throughout its history it has been a champion of co-operatives and co-operative working, believing co-operation can be a powerful driver in business success, innovation and social change.
The Centre’s values are based on the international co-operative values. And while the Wales Co-operative Centre is rooted in Wales, it has always looked beyond Wales for ideas and inspiration.
From an early study trip to the Mondragón Co-operative in the Basque Country to its recent work supporting credit unions in England, its vision has been to help Wales to become the international leader for co-operative thinking and action.
Co-operatives Fortnight is the annual campaign from the UK co-operative sector which runs from June 25 – July 9 with a range of activities taking place to celebrate and promote the co-operative message.
The campaign will call on consumers to think about where they spend their money, ask government to recognise how co-operatives help build a more equal, fair economy and invite business leaders to learn how co-operation can help boost the performance of their companies.
It aims to raise awareness of how co-operatives offer a way of doing business in which everyday employees, customers and residents have an equal say in decisions and share the profits.
This year, the theme ‘Yours To Share’ will highlight how sharing ownership and profits makes the co-operative alternative business model more relevant than ever.
In Wales, a number of organisations including the Wales Co-operative Centre and Co-operatives and Mutuals Wales, are leading on activities to promote the co-operative message.
The Wales Co-operative Centre’s chief executive is Derek Walker who took up this post in January.
He was previously head of external affairs at the Big Lottery Fund and before that was the head of policy and campaigns at the Wales TUC.
With a background in journalism and policy development he has extensive experience in developing strong relationships with key stakeholders in government and across the public, third and private sectors.
Mr Walker is a committed trade unionist and a member of the Co-operative Party and the Co-operative Group, where promoting equality and social justice have been central themes in his career to date.
Speaking of his vision for the Co-operative Centre’s work in Wales he said: “Now is the time to bring on a new age of co-operatives, and political parties for their part should be given full marks for their commitment to co-operatives during the recent Welsh Assembly elections.”
He continued: “Co-operatives probably had a higher profile than ever before and there was cross party consensus in the manifestos about the value of co-operatives in growing the Welsh economy.
“Welsh Labour said that mutuals, social enterprises and co-operatives have a key role in the economy and other parties took similar positions.”
Mr Walker believes they were all right to do so. Co-operatives are, he explained, good for business, good for individuals and good for society.
Increased employee involvement in how the business is run means productivity and job satisfaction levels are invariably higher. Profits are shared locally with workers and the local community.
“In addition to this co-operatives are well perceived by the public,” he said.
“Polls tell us that co-operatives are viewed by the public as locally based, honest and a good way to run a business. Other, more traditional, companies are often seen as distant, global and cut throat.”
In Wales the co-operative economy is estimated to have a turnover of almost £1bn, with 200 businesses and more than 5,000 employees.
There are high profile examples such as Tower Colliery alongside less well known businesses like Dynamix, a training provider in Swansea, that delivers courses and play based activities primarily for younger people.
“The co-operative model is a flexible one that is found in all areas of the economy from manufacturing to media, and agriculture to the arts,” Mr Walker said.
He added: “ Not only that, the co-operative model is flourishing. There are around 5,000 independent co-operatives in the UK owned by more than 12 million people and the numbers keep on growing. During the economic downturn when the rest of the UK economy contracted, the co-operative economy grew.”
There are excellent examples of co-operatives across Britain and around the world.
The Basque town of Mondragón is home to the world’s largest workers co-operative, the Mondragón Corporation. This federation of businesses not only creates tens of thousands of jobs and significant wealth. It also ensures that this wealth stays in the region rather than dissipating to shareholders across the globe.
This large co-operative has helped make the Basque region one of the wealthiest in Spain. It is one of the reasons why the region has maintained higher employment levels when other parts of Spain have suffered.
Noted poverty expert and sociology professor Barbara J. Peters of Southampton College and Long Island University studied the Mondragón example and remarked on its obvious cohesion and relative equality.
“In Mondragón, I saw no signs of poverty and no signs of extreme wealth,” Dr Peters said.
“I saw people looking out for each other. It’s a caring form of capitalism.”
Almost three decades ago the establishment of the Wales Co-operative Centre was inspired by a study trip to Mondragón. Next year, during its 30th anniversary year, the Centre plans to make a return trip with a group of politicians and policy makers.
“While we have made significant progress in growing the co-operative economy in Wales since then, there is still a lot more to achieve,” Mr Walker said. “Wales needs good jobs, greater wealth and more community businesses.
“The Wales Co-operative Centre’s ambition is to make Wales – alongside Mondragón – an international centre for co-operative thinking and action, and we are looking forward to working with the Welsh Government and the new economy minister, Edwina Hart, to realise this goal.”
Source: Wales Online