Co-operatives are a ‘made in Wales’ solution
Professor Andrew Davies, Chairman of the Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission, today addressed members of the Wales Co-operative Centre at their Annual General Meeting.
During the last twelve months, the Commission has gathered evidence about the state of the co-operative sector in Wales. It is due to make its final report to Welsh Government within the next few weeks, but Professor Davies spoke to Members about some of the Commission’s findings.
He began by talking about the strong tradition and legacy of co-operation in Wales, which is known the world over as the birthplace of Robert Owen, the first co-operative pioneer. But the Commission had been struck by the gap between this heritage and the reality of the co-operative sector in modern Wales. Professor Davies described it as a ‘sleeping giant’.
Traditional models of business have not served Wales well in recent years – they have failed many Welsh people and communities. Latest thinking from the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that there is more economic hardship to come and for a long time to come.
Another challenge faced by Wales is its aging population. In 2008, 18 per cent of the population was over 65; by 2033 this is expected to rise to almost 26 per cent. This trend is already having a dramatic impact on the economy and public services.
The Commission firmly believes that the co-operative and mutual sector has the potential to tackle these challenges and Professor Davies hopes that its report will unlock much of this potential by providing a clear route map.
He continued his presentation with several key points:
Mutualisation is not a race to the bottom, nor is it a pre-cursor to privatisation. The experience of the housing sector in particular shows that mutual models are values-led and based on stewardship. They protect the rights of employees and the needs of individuals and communities.
The sector needs to become less fragmented and must speak with a single voice. Drawing on the lessons of the John Lewis Partnership, the sector should speak with passion and confidence about its values. It must raise awareness, particularly in the education sector and within the business community.
Active dialogue should take place between Welsh Government, Local Authorities and Trade Unions – co-operation should become part of their toolbox when addressing the needs of Wales.
Professor Davies’s final point was that co-operation is not marginal. It is not only for failing public services, and is not only for deprived communities. It should be a mainstream, made in Wales answer to future growth and development.