Blog | Co-operative | Policy

How Parties can put Co-operative Values at the Heart of their 2021 Manifestos.

Dan Roberts, Policy and Research Officer at the Wales Co-operative Centre, outlines the Centre’s priorities ahead of the Senedd elections in May 2021. They cover a wide range of areas, reflecting the diversity of the Centre’s work.

By Dan Roberts · October 26, 2020

See this page in: Cymraeg

The next Welsh Government faces one of the most challenging periods since the beginning of devolution. As well as the immediate public health concerns that Covid-19 brings, the major upheaval has exacerbated existing economic and social inequalities. Recovery from the pandemic, the ongoing climate crisis and the unacceptable levels of poverty in Wales need to be placed at the heart of our next Government’s agenda.

The remit of the Wales Co-operative Centre is wide-ranging, and as a result we have experience and insight across different policy areas. We have significant experience of supporting social enterprises and co-operatives across Wales, particularly in areas that provide crucial services to our communities. We help to build stronger communities and to promote digital inclusion. As a result, our proposals focus on creating a well-being economy and the potential of digital technology to ‘build back better.’

The global movement to shift economic development policy towards well-being and sustainability is growing. The Wales Co-operative Centre is asking political parties in Wales to commit to these 7 policy proposals that are practical steps towards a well-being economy:

Social enterprises and co-operatives make a huge contribution to communities across the country economically, socially and culturally. They need continued specialist support in order to play an even bigger role following the current crisis. Like all sectors of the economy, social enterprises have been hit hard by Covid-19, but many have stepped up to serve their communities when they needed them most. Ensuring we build on the success of Social Business Wales with a specialist business support service, which is ready for the challenges social enterprises will face, has never been so important.

The benefits of a focus on the Foundational Economy and community wealth building are well-documented. Such approaches have the potential to transform places and economies across Wales. We recommend that a new taskforce is established to grow local economies, build local supply chains and to place control and benefits into the hands of local people, to ensure that these principles are embedded across the Government.

The Wales Co-operative Centre supports calls for investment in the decarbonisation of social housing in Wales, which would make a significant impact on reducing carbon emissions and energy bills. In addition, the investment could also be a major boost for local economies if delivered effectively. To achieve this economic boost, we ask that the next Welsh Government gives housing associations and local authorities an ambitious target to spend a certain percentage of the investment with local businesses and social enterprises.

The next Welsh Government should put more Welsh businesses in the hands of their employees. One of the biggest barriers to the growth of the employee owned sector in Wales is the lack of awareness and wider culture that exists in the country. Therefore, the Welsh Government should establish a leadership group that seeks to address this. In addition, the Development Bank of Wales should establish a specialist fund to help employees to buy an equity stake in their business, as has been called for by the Employee Ownership Association.

As we strive to build a new economy in Wales that puts well-being at the heart of its policymaking, we are calling for social enterprise and co-operative models to be embedded within the entrepreneurship education that students receive at Welsh schools, colleges and universities. There is good practice to be built on and replicated across Wales, including the Wrexham Hack of Kindness and the Social Enterprise Academy’s work with Cardiff Met University. It is essential we train a new generation of entrepreneurs who are ready to take forward socially responsible and environmentally friendly business ideas.

Historically GP services have been delivered by individual GPs, who run sole trader businesses that hold a contract with local health boards. As GPs retire there is a shortage of new GPs who are willing to buy-in to these businesses and take on the liability of running the service as a sole trader business. One solution to this problem would be to establish new community health co-ops across Wales that provide a range of health and well-being services. Membership of these community health co-ops could be drawn from the local community and could include patients, doctors and other workers, representatives from the local authority and the health board.

Co-operative and community-led housing (CCLH) can meet local housing need in imaginative and innovative ways, is often found in places where traditional forms of housing are not possible, and is making an increasingly important contribution to new housing supply in Wales. The benefits of CCLH for residents are significant, ranging from improved skills and confidence to a greater feeling of community. One of the most significant barriers to new CCLH schemes is the ability to access appropriately priced and structured finance through the development process, and to address this challenge, we are asking the next Welsh Government to establish a revolving loan fund using Financial Transactions Capital funding.

The Wales Co-operative Centre adds its voice to the growing calls for Citizens’ Assemblies to be embedded into the political process in Wales. In this context, we strongly believe that the potential of digital democracy is yet to be fully realised in Wales, and should be included in the conversation around the importance of Citizens’ Assemblies. Digital platforms can democratise debate and be an additional platform to voices that are currently under-represented in the political process.

In order to ensure no one is left behind as a result of the digital revolution, the next Welsh Government should prioritise addressing digital exclusion and data poverty in Wales. Ending digital exclusion will require a comprehensive and integrated programme of work to address issues such as motivation, cost, skills and connectivity. Developments in digital technology have transformed the lives of people in Wales over recent years, and although this can lead to positive change, it also has the potential to exacerbate existing inequalities, as has been the case during the Covid-19 crisis. It has never been more important to reach those who are digitally excluded.

We are calling for a new programme to promote digital services in the third sector, as has been the case with the Welsh Government’s Centre for Digital Public Services. Many charities and third sector organisations provide essential public and community services, and we need to ensure that these organisations are also able to take advantage of digital technology to enhance the services they provide and to become more efficient. In particular, we are calling for specific leadership training to be made available to ensure that those working in the third sector are able to gain valuable digital skills.

The diversity of these tangible policy recommendations reflects the work that we do at the Wales Co-operative Centre and the potential impact that social enterprise and co-operative values can have.  Over the coming months, we will be going into more detail on each of these policy recommendations. If you have any further insights you would like to share on these topics, please get in touch with our Policy and Research Officer, Daniel Roberts, through email at dan.roberts@wales.coop.

Dan Roberts, Policy and Research Officer

dan.roberts@wales.coop