Wales Co-operative Centre

Canolfan Cydweithredol Cymru

Posts Tagged ‘skills

Shocking poverty figures provoke call for more digital inclusion support

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Nearly a quarter of a million people in Wales want a job but do not have one.  More than 8,000 households were homeless in 2013 and 79,000 people needed food aid.  One in three children lives in a low income family. This is the stark backdrop to the Bevan Foundation’s new report “Rethinking Poverty – Implications for Action”, which is of great interest to us at the Wales Co-operative Centre and the work that we do that supports the wider poverty agenda.

The report argues that digital and financial skills are essential to help people out of poverty, or at least mitigate its impact.  About digital inclusion, the report says:

“Digital skills are an important adjunct to literacy and numeracy, as more and more services are either available only online, or offer time and/or cash savings if accessed online. The shift towards online benefit claims is a particularly strong driver of change. People without access to the internet and without the skills to use it are disadvantaged. There is a marked income-effect in digital exclusion – in 2013, only 1 in 10 (9%) of those in managerial and professional occupations did not use the internet compared to more than three in ten (31%) of those who had semi-routine and routine occupations.

“It is very welcome that digital skills have a relatively high profile in the 2013 Tackling Poverty Action Plan.  The plan includes the Digital Inclusion delivery plan’s targets, the targets for which have mostly been met.  The commitment to digital skills and inclusion should continue, with challenging targets for people in low income groups, with programmes of sufficient scale and impact to achieve them.”

The Money Made Clear Wales website is a great example of where people can get financial advice online

The Money Made Clear Wales website is a great example of where people can get financial advice online

The achievement of the targets in the Digital Inclusion delivery plan was due to the Welsh Government’s Communities 2.0 programme, which is led by the Wales Co-operative Centre.  How is this going to work then when Communities 2.0 comes to an end in March next year?  Well, we need everyone in Wales working to tackle poverty to take digital inclusion seriously.  Our experience is that the current practice is too patchy.  And to get this consistency we need a strong, lean leading digital inclusion project  to help all front line services deliver effective digital skills support.

The Bevan Foundation report is blunt about the nature of the challenge.  For the last eight years, there has been no improvement at all in the number of Welsh people living in poverty.  And that number is set to rise.  Yes, we need an informed debate.  But we also need action.

Dave Brown is the Director of Strategic Development & Performance at the Wales Co-operative Centre

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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

Capital Gains Tax? What a Relief!

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Capital Gains Tax? What a Relief!

On April 6th 2014, the UK Government will formally launch a range of tax incentives to help grow the employee ownership sector. There will be an exemption from income tax of £3,600 for certain payments made to employees of qualifying employee-owned companies, and the introduction of a relief from capital gains tax (CGT) for owners selling a controlling interest to a trust which operates for the benefit of all employees. Finally, a tax hook on which to promote employee ownership to those business owners considering their business succession options!!

Although the Centre is disappointed that direct forms of employee ownership, such as the worker co-operative model, have not been recognised, this is still a significant milestone for employee ownership. The tax incentives headline what has been a very busy 18 months of UK policy development in this area, stimulated in the main by the recommendations in the 2012 Nuttall Review of Employee Ownership, ‘Sharing Success ‘

To us at the Wales Co-operative Centre, employee ownership is an economic ‘no brainer’. Giving employees an ownership stake in a business changes their relationship with the business and encourages them to take a positive and proactive role in helping their company grow. Recent research by the Cass Business School supports this by showing that employee owned businesses are more stable and more resilient as a direct result of the employees gaining a real stake in the success of that business.

Here in Wales, we see employee ownership as a crucial succession option which can help keep jobs, business and skills in Wales. Unfortunately it is often the forgotten succession option, not being viewed as a mainstream idea by conventional business advisers. At the Wales Co-operative Centre, we have received support from Welsh Government and European Union Regional Development funding to implement employee ownership in Wales and are actively working with both businesses and advisers to put employee ownership firmly in the mainstream.

To mark the introduction of the new tax regime for employee ownership, the Wales Co-operative Centre is hosting a number of breakfast seminars looking at the benefits of employee ownership and how the new tax incentives can benefit business owners who would like to move on from the business.

The events in Cardiff, Carmarthen and Bodnant in North Wales will also consider the employee trust, how it fits with your business model, and the benefits of the model for the business owner and the employees. The seminars will be of interest to business owners interested in looking at their exit strategies and to business advisors who want to know more about the approach to advise their clients. To find out more click here.

In our view, tax should not be the sole driving factor to considering employee ownership. Many of our clients are driven by legacy, and see employee ownership as an approach that engages employees and puts them in charge of their own futures. It helps retain jobs and provides a platform for continued local business ownership and growth. However, having an additional incentive to help promote the employee ownership exit route is never a bad thing and we’ll be working hard to promote the new relief available to business owners here in Wales.

Let’s just hope those clever tax specialists don’t find some loophole which allows companies to abuse the incentive for purposes other than employee ownership, otherwise we could see it withdrawn from the market as quick as at arrived.

Further information can be found on the Wales Co-operative Centres Website http://www.walescooperative.org

Places can be booked directly by calling the Centre on 0300 111 5050.

Rhian Edwards is manager of the ERDF and Welsh Government Business Succession project at the Wales Co-operative Centre. Her team works with micro-businesses and SME’s across Wales to develop employee ownership approaches and employee ownership based succession planning.

New ‘Tackling Poverty Fortnight’ campaign starts here – #povertyinwales

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Tackling Poverty Fortnight campaign image

Over the next fourteen days, the Wales Co-operative Centre is inviting you to join a conversation about poverty in Wales, and what works to overcome it, or at least reduce its impact.

The headlines aren’t good.  The economy is flat-lining.  We have the biggest shake-up to the benefits system in 60 years.  Public spending is being cut whilst the need for public services is rising.  Some people are losing their jobs whilst others are facing pay freezes or reductions to their hours.   Prices, especially energy prices, continue to rise.  These events have a cumulative impact on families and communities in Wales, and poverty is often the consequence.

Yet amongst all of this there are real successes: stories of enterprises supported to create jobs in our most deprived communities, stories of people helped into work against the odds.  Stories of people empowered to save money and avoid debt.  We will be telling some of thesestories over the next couple of weeks.

For example, the Wales Co-operative Centre provides support to people who are digitally excluded, through leading the Welsh Government’s Communities 2.0 programme.  Getting online and developing digital skills can open doors to unimagined worlds.  Amongst other things, we have helped hundreds of people progress in the jobs market, and we will hear from some of them this fortnight.  The Centre also works to promote Financial Inclusion, for example by supporting people at risk of homelessness.  We help them manage their money more effectively and avoid debt.

Our work with social enterprises specifically targets those with the potential to grow and create more jobs.  We have worked with clients across Wales, getting national recognition for our recent work with AFS in Swansea, which provided sustainable employment for former Remploy workers.  The jobs created as a result of our work are quality employment opportunities, and the money made by the employing enterprises stays in the local community.

The impact of poverty on people in Wales makes it inappropriate to call this series of success stories a celebration.  It is, however, an acknowledgement that some things are working and that people are benefiting as a result.

We look forward to your response, to hearing your stories.  You can comment on the blog posts, or use #povertyinwales on Twitter.

Digital Inclusion is one of our most effective weapons in the fight against poverty

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Get Merthyr Tydfil Online launch

Get Merthyr Tydfil Online Launch: (Left to Right) Angela Jones – Communities 2.0, Derek Walker, Chief Executive Wales Co-operative Centre, Mike Owen, Chief Executive Merthyr Valleys Homes, Eleanor Marks, Welsh Government, Ian Benbow, Head of Service, Social Regeneration, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council.

Derek Walker, Chief Executive of the Wales Co-operative Centre, looks at how digital inclusion, financial inclusion and social enterprise support work together to protect people from poverty and to mitigate against its impact.

Today is the launch of Get Swansea Online, a local initiative that aims to help Swansea’s estimated 45,000 digitally excluded residents to use the internet. This is the latest in a series of initiatives brokered by Communities 2.0, the Welsh Government digital inclusion project.

At yesterday’s launch of another initiative, Get Merthyr Tydfil Online, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty Jeff Cuthbert congratulated Communities 2.0 on its collaborative and partnership led approach. He emphasised the importance of helping people to get online and use the internet to save money and to find jobs. He stated that “digital exclusion compounds isolation” and said that Get Merthyr Tydfil Online has the potential to “reach the most digitally and financially excluded citizens” in the county. Last week the Minister visited a similar initiative in the Caia Park area of Wrexham. The political will is certainly there to ensure that everyone in Wales has access to the internet and the skills to use it effectively in the fight against poverty – but there is still more to be done.

We are very lucky here in the Wales Co-operative Centre. Through our work as lead partner of Communities 2.0, and through our own projects on financial inclusion and social enterprise development, we see the positive improvements our interventions can bring to the lives of people in real danger of falling below the bread line. Across Wales we see people, helped by Communities 2.0 and our financial inclusion initiatives, gain IT skills and use those skills to get jobs and get out of debt.  Communities 2.0 recently supported Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent MIND’s social enterprise arm ‘Training in MIND’ with an investment of nearly £5,000. The support will help pay for new laptop and desktop computers in their IT suite. The IT suite is manned by volunteers running drop-in sessions for people to update their IT skills and search for jobs. The organisation is currently setting up a work club for people who attend the centre. This is an excellent example of a social enterprise integrating digital inclusion and anti-poverty measures into its social aims and on the ground delivery.

At the Wales Co-operative Centre we also see the difference in our communities when they are engaged and enabled and can build social enterprises that reinvest their surpluses back into training and job creation. Galeri Caernarfon Cyf is a social enterprise that is focussed on regenerating the town of Caernarfon. Over the years it has regenerated properties and spaces in the town and opened up a highly successful arts centre. It now employs 36 full time equivalent jobs directly and supports over 40 in its tenant businesses. It is estimated that this one social enterprise has an economic impact of almost £1.3m to the economies of Gwynedd and Ynys Môn. In fact, Galeri is among just 6% of firms in Gwynedd that employ more than 25 people.

The Wales Co-operative Centre receives funding from a number of different sources to allow us to deliver our support work to communities across Wales. Our funders include the European Regional Development Fund, Welsh Government and the Oak Foundation.

This year, we have also led on a project which encourages individuals to use the services of local credit unions to help them ensure that their rent payment gets to their landlords – meaning that they can keep a roof over their own and their family’s heads. In Caerphilly, development staff are working directly with individuals to suggest ways in which they can use existing support and advice to make the money they have last longer.

We are also managing and promoting www.moneymadeclearwales.org  which offers signposting to advice on saving and loans, debt and benefits. Access to digital resources is now intrinsically linked to good money management and to allowing individuals to take control of their own lives.

Financial and digital inclusion doesn’t just reduce isolation, but it allows freedom, liberty and empowerment. It allows individuals and groups to take their next steps forward – individually in the jobs market or as entrepreneurs, and collectively as empowered communities and social enterprises.

We believe that by integrating financial and digital inclusion with community engagement and real support for social enterprises and charities, it is possible to alleviate some of the poverty that currently exists in Wales. But, just as importantly, we believe that this sort of support is empowering. It allows people to make decisions about their own futures. It allows them to build their skills and their confidence and it empowers individuals to lift themselves out of poverty and stay out of it.

Get Merthyr Tydfil Online set to Soar!

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Zoar Chapel in Merthyr Tydfil has been a central part of life in the town since the middle of the 19th Century, long before the days of Facebook and Twitter. Yesterday, as Theatr Soar, it played host to an event that marked a new effort to help local people reap the benefits of digital technology.

Welsh Government Minister, Jeff Cuthbert

Welsh Government Minister, Jeff Cuthbert

The launch event for ‘Get Merthyr Tydfil Online’ was attended by representatives of organisations that will be involved in the campaign, working in partnership. Communities 2.0 – the Welsh Government’s digital inclusion programme – organised the launch with colleagues in Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council and Merthyr Valley Homes.

Derek Walker, Chief Executive of the Wales Co-operative Centre, reiterated the fact that the Centre is the lead partner in Communities 2.0 and that the programme is doing vital work in supporting individuals, organisations and small enterprises to do more with digital technologies. Jeff Cuthbert, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty in Welsh Government, attended the event and said how not being online ‘restricts opportunities to improve lives’. This was borne out in a video that was played to the audience, telling the story of Deborah Price who secured a job after volunteering with Communities 2.0 in Merthyr Central Library.

We were given a tour of the Get Merthyr Tydfil Online website, an insight into digital inclusion work in social housing from Merthyr Valley Homes, with closing comments from Cllr. Phil Williams – Deputy Leader of Merthyr Tydfil Borough Council – who cited the value of partnership working in the campaign.

Stephanie Davies and Angela Jones of Communities 2.0 address the event

Stephanie Davies and Angela Jones of Communities 2.0 address the event

To round off the morning, we were given an opportunity to meet members of a local Job Club who had been attending computer classes, supported by Communities 2.0. One of the learners, Mark, told me why he wanted to learn more: “I’d been referred to the classes by my local Job Centre. It encouraged me to try something new, as I’d used computers for shopping online, downloading music and talking to people on Skype, but not for finding work or getting more qualifications. I’ve recently started an ECDL course. I’m hoping that all these courses and classes will lead to long-term employment for me and a better future. I’d even love to have a job in computers”.

New Minister marks launch of Get Neath Port Talbot Online

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Congratulations to Get Neath Port Talbot Online, the latest strategic initiative from the Welsh Government’s Communities 2.0 programme, which is led by the Wales Co-operative Centre.  Get NPT Online was launched by Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, Jeff Cuthbert at Briton Ferry library this week.

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Jeff Cuthbert, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, at the launch with members of the Briton Ferry Photographic Club.

Designed to tackle poverty by overcoming barriers to work, the initiative has challenging targets for helping people become confident in using computers, and in finding work online.

Through the Communities 2.0 programme, Wales Co-operative Centre staff have brokered a partnership between NPT Homes, Coastal Housing and the local Communities First organisation, to target support at those in greatest need.  Front line staff of all the partner organisations will be trained to help their clients take the first steps towards getting online.  This will be backed up by focussed training and support from a team of volunteers.  People who were previously excluded from job opportunities through lack of skills will set up their own e-mail addresses, develop online CVs and learn how to search job sites.  As a result, they will become included as part of the modern world.

Katy, Rachel and Kevin - the Get NPT Online Outreach Team.

Katy, Rachel and Kevin – the Get NPT Online Outreach Team.

The beauty of Get NPT Online is that it is a genuinely local response to the problems of poverty, worklessness and social exclusion.  It works with the community, not on it.  Get NPT Online is sustainable, because digital inclusion will be embedded in the working practices of the partner organisations.

Across Wales, the Wales Co-operative Centre is delivering programmes in communities that have a tangible economic benefit.  Thanks to funding from the Welsh Government and European Regional Development Fund, people in Neath Port Talbot have a head start.

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