Wales Co-operative Centre

Canolfan Cydweithredol Cymru

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#walescoopreport Co-operation can help us all grow – let’s create a collaborative advantage in Wales.

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#walescoopreport Co-operation can help us all grow – let’s create a collaborative advantage in Wales.

Wales Co-operative Centre Chief Executive Derek Walker looks at the report of the Wales Co-operative and Mutuals Commission which is published today.

The Wales Co-operative and Mutuals Commissions report provides Wales with an opportunity to incorporate co-operation into nearly everything we do in our country. It’s an opportunity we should grasp with both hands.

The report is a detailed and insightful dissection of the co-operative sector in Wales. It offers many interesting and innovative recommendations which, if fully implemented, could see Wales become the focus of co-operation in Britain.

At the Wales Co-operative Centre, we think this report is a big deal.

The Wales Co-operative Centre has supported the development of worker co-operatives and employee owned businesses for many years. From working with the miners in their efforts to purchase Tower Colliery, to advising firms like Primepac and more recently Accommodation Furniture Solutions, we have helped employees sustain their own futures through the co-operative and democratic ownership of their businesses.

The report asks all stakeholders to revise the way in which we think about business development and business growth. It questions current approaches to procurement and tendering. It raises questions on education approaches and it asks us to consider ownership of those assets in our communities which help to forge our identity.
Co-operation has often been stimulated by need in Wales, and to a certain degree that is still the case.

In this report, the requirement for co-operative development and growth is borne out of a strong business case. The report suggests there is a real need for a concerted effort to build a co-operative, cohesive, sustainable business community that develops jobs locally and stimulates local economic development and home-grown business growth. Socially owned enterprises such as co-operatives are more resilient than other business forms with more than 90% of co-operatives surviving their first three years compared to 65% of conventional businesses. According to CASS business schools research, average sales growth of employee owned businesses during the recession was far higher than comparable non-employee owned businesses at the time.

The Commission recognises that co-operatives can be springboards for growth. It calls for specialist business support and advice for people looking to form co-operatives and employee owned businesses. It calls on existing co-operatives to support and mentor new co-operative enterprises and to work with them to build supply relationships. The report also recognises the need for specialised investment finance for developing co-operatives and employee owned businesses. It offers a detailed analysis of the many business sectors where co-operative and mutual models can work including housing, energy, shops and pubs, finance, transport and delivering public services.

We warmly welcome the Commission’s findings on investment finance. The Centre agrees with the recommendation that specialist business support for developing co-operatives and employee owned businesses is essential. The Commission argues that there is a need to establish specific funding for these types of businesses. We welcome the acknowledgement of the need for specialised and targeted availability of grants and loans for co-operative and employee owned businesses and we would echo the call for that funding to be made available.
The Commission also recommends more flexibility in public procurement and for co-operative procurement to be ‘mainstreamed’ through Welsh procurement practice.

These recommendations address major barriers to the development of worker co-ops, employee owned businesses and co-operative consortia in Wales and they will have an important impact on jobs and growth. But, it is also essential to ensure that these developments are protected by an ongoing educational focus that ensures that future generations understand the benefits of working together.
And to me this is all tied together by the first set of recommendations in the report. The Commissioners recommend that the values, principles and skills of co-operation are embedded within our education system. This inventive recommendation will ensure that future generations that progress through the Welsh education system see co-operation and co-operatives as a solid means of building enterprise and as an attractive, sustainable career choice.
The Wales Co-operative Centre welcomes the publication of the report. It makes some bold and ambitious recommendations which, if implemented, could accelerate growth in an already dynamic and innovative sector.

Written by David Madge

February 21, 2014 at 8:15 am

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.

New housing bond is great news for development of affordable housing in Wales.

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The Welsh Government today launched an innovative new financing scheme which will support the development of over 1000 new affordable homes in Wales. The Welsh Housing Finance Grant Scheme will allow housing associations to use rental income from the new housing stock to service the debt.

Twenty Housing Associations are taking part in the scheme, with coverage across all 22 local authority areas in Wales. Construction work on the first projects will commence in 2013.

As part of the scheme, M&G Investments are providing the main new source of finance for Wales’s Registered Social Landlords, in light of the lack of long term funding currently available from banks.

Dave Palmer is the Co-operative Housing Project Manager at the Wales Co-operative Centre, “We welcome this long term innovative funding for Affordable Housing where the Welsh Government guarantee the interest payments for 30 years. This will help our Housing Association partners and may enable other development finance to be used for Co-operative Housing where the need exists.

We hope that this will pave the way for a co-operative housing bond for England and Wales in the next few years”.

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”.

Digital inclusion key to Framework for Independent Living

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Last week, the Welsh Government published their Framework for Action on Independent Living which sets out an approach to public service provision that supports disabled people to live their own lives in the way that they choose for themselves.  The framework includes actions to ensure access to good quality and accessible information and advice.  One of the key actions identified by the Welsh Government is increasing the number of disabled people that are able to use the internet via the Communities 2.0 digital inclusion programme.

The Wales Co-operative Centre is the lead organisation delivering the Welsh Government funded Communities 2.0 project.  Communities 2.0 is supporting a number of digital inclusion initiatives aimed at disabled people, in partnership with organisations including Disability Wales, RNIB, Leonard Cheshire and the Digital Accessibility Centre. The framework outlines how Communities 2.0 will also continue to facilitate an ‘e-accessibility forum’, led by Disability Wales. The Wales e-Accessibility Forum is a group of representatives from organisations that support disabled people, with the purpose of finding ways to support disabled people to take advantage of the benefits of digital technology and the internet.

We see digital inclusion as an essential thread to supporting independent living.  In addition to the actions outlined in the Framework, we believe that access to ICT could enable disabled people to live independently in a number of ways.

ICT could be embedded in personalised care and support.  For example, it could enable individuals to make use of direct payments. Internet banking or access to an online credit union account is a secure means of delivering payments if the individual has access to the internet in the home. Furthermore, Useful information about personal assistants could be made available via the internet

We welcome the support for the important work of the Communities 2.0 project and believe that digital inclusion can have a real impact on the lives of disabled people wanting to live independently at home, in the work place, in public places and socially in their community.

Written by Ieuan Nash

September 24, 2013 at 9:30 am

There’s more to poverty than being out of work

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The recent consultation on the new EU funding framework had a strong focus on tackling poverty through increasing employment: ERDF programmes would create jobs; and ESF programmes would give people the skills needed to do those jobs.  No one would argue with the positive impact this would have on the Welsh economy and on Welsh communities.  Indeed, the Wales Co-operative Centre believes that co-operatives and social enterprises can be the engine house of such an economic regeneration.  UK figures show that the social enterprise sector is growing faster than the economy as a whole, and these businesses employ more people relative to turnover.  You get more bang for your ERDF buck with a social enterprise.

There is a big “but” coming.  That is: if the new funding framework only allows spend on job creation and developing skills for work, we are not addressing the impact of poverty on large sections of the Welsh population.  We would be ignoring, for example, the issue of in-work poverty.  With zero-hours contracts on the rise, an increasing number of people in work lack the financial stability that used to come with having a job.  And people who are beyond working age are disproportionately likely to live in poverty: a jobs-based EU funding framework will do nothing for them.

The Wales Co-operative Centre currently delivers community projects that are designed to mitigate the impact of poverty and allow people to take control of their own financial circumstances, whether they are unemployed, in work or retired.  For example, we lead the Welsh Government funded Communities 2.0 project which helps people get the benefits of being online. Age Cymru Swansea Bay manage a Communities 2.0 initiative which brings the internet into the homes of older people.  Peripatetic advice workers carry laptops and support their clients to set up internet banking, to save money online and more.  Using digital ways of achieving financial inclusion transforms the lives of older people.  Rather than relying on others, they are in control of their own money.  Savings in utility bills can amount to hundreds of pounds a year, making people feel more confident about switching on the heating as winter comes.

We believe there should be a place in the tackling poverty strands of the new EU funding framework to allow this kind of work to continue.  The argument for an emphasis on jobs is well made, but poverty in Welsh communities is not just about unemployment, it is also about people being able to manage their lives so that they are better off, in work or not.  Let’s hope the final framework has breadth as well as depth.

 

Written by Ieuan Nash

September 10, 2013 at 3:06 pm

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