By us, for us
Co-operators are leading a local revolution
by Nick Crofts
I am a proud Labour and Co-operative councillor.
Across the the country, councillors and council candidates stand for election under a joint banner because we are determined that local government can and does benefit from our co-operative values and principles as well as the practical solutions that our movement and party can offer.
This month I am chairing the first ever Co-operative Councillors’ Conference, called By Us, For Us.
There is a growing recognition of the quiet revolution in local government that is being led by co-operation across the country. Carrying on a strong tradition of devolving power to the people we represent, working alongside local communities and developing a co-operative economy.
We are not afraid to seek co-operative solutions to the big issues facing local government in our time: the future of council funding, the adult social care crisis, education, and devolution.
The conference will start with funding – one of the biggest questions facing local government. As councils become more dependent on business rates, how can we encourage growth but ensure the economy works for local people?
We will hear about the exciting work in Preston. Inspired by the reaction to industrial decline in Cleveland, Ohio, the Lancashire council is looking to turn spending by the local council on hospital and university [the so-called ‘anchor instititutions’] into a force for good for the local economy. Instead of contracts going to suppliers outside the city, they target the wealth to local communities, and through the Guild Co–operative Network they support local co-operatives to start up and fill the gap.
Second, adult social care constitutes the biggest areas of discretionary spend for councils, and supports some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
The C-operative Party has recently published a policy document called Taking Care, which is calling for workers, clients and their families to be listened to. The Conference is a chance to hear fresh ideas for social care co-ops that are owned by care workers., care recipients and their families to take the place of private providers, to be run on a not-for-profit basis, and calling for staff and care recipients to be given the right to be directly represented on the boards of private providers.
Next: the landscape in which local government is working faces further change under Theresa May’s Government – not least her education plans and how co-operative solutions – like co-operative schools in Liverpool – can help reconnect our schools with communities, and refresh the comprehensive ideal, rather than follow the dogma of the Conservatives.
But it is not just schools that need to reconnect with communities.
In Liverpool we took the chance to take decisions away from the Council’s officers and give them to local areas through neighbourhood budgets.
In a time of reduced funding, increasing and competing demands, and of rapid political change, Co-operative councillors are leading the way in a new vision for local government. Our Conference this month will debate, discuss and share that new vision, as one thing is certain: more of the same is not an option for local government.
Nick Crofts is Chair of the Co-operative Councillors’ Conference