Initial draft observations, Social Care Co-ops, co-operatives and mutual commission

Wales Progressive Co-operators 20 February 2013 

- click on the titles below to expand or contract. Please comment on these points at the foot of this article.

·      Existing methods of delivering social services have considerable weakness because they are not designed to meet the needs of the client group. Investor-driven models are the least likely to deliver the required outcomes because of their focus upon profit maximisation. Local authority delivery has certain weaknesses, even if modified using the ‘Co-production approach as pioneered in Scotland, because services will be under threat whenever overall local authority budgets are cut.·      It is important not to over limit the entry of different models for service provision. It is also essential that providers are engaged for the long-haul. This means they must be viable and embrace a ‘stewardship*’ model. (See for a detailed explanation).·      Consumer based co-op models are unlikely to be robust enough because of the fact that the client/user groups are among the most vulnerable. Providers using either a worker co-op format or as a service provided by the English consumer co-operative conglomerate (e.g. Mid Counties Co-ops childcare service) or even charity-based. This is because there is no guarantee that the focus of enterprise will be upon meeting the needs of the client/user group.·      The most appropriate form of co-op/mutual for social service delivery is likely to be one where the purpose of the enterprise is the delivery of a quality service at an affordable cost, and where membership is based upon a community of interest rooted in this common purpose.  This can be called a multi-stakeholder model, but this can suggest that the various stakeholders compete for their share of the cake. It is much more of a ‘community model’ that is needed, which can unite all of the players (clients/users, professionals, carers, other workers and volunteer community supporters) and unite them around a common purpose.

·      What further evidence can be produced from other countries? See, for example, the evidence we commissioned and which Jean-Pierre Girard presented to the Health and Social Care Committee Residential Inquiry on 8 February 2012

·      It is not in fact traditional ‘business’ advice that is required, but rather help in understanding the ‘enterprise model’, human organization, leadership development and member co-operative education to provide the knowledge and skills that will empower the members to deliver upon their purpose. As we engage in a process of community development in recent months this is our experience todate. (See the Co-op News, 29 January – February 12, 2013).·      We refer to the history of support for co-ops & mutuals in UK and international – failure of the UK national CDA, initiated in late 1970’s, and some regional ‘top-down’ efforts both in the UK and internationally. The sub-sector-specific Scottish Agriculture Organisation Society is most successful because it focuses on agriculture & rural issues. Likewise, the Plunkett Foundation now successfully focuses upon rural community development. We do not comment specifically on generic agencies, except to say that support for ‘social co-ops’ needs to be sector-specific. This point was also made by the founder of the Italian Social Co-op Movement in the Social Co-ops workshop we organised at Co-operatives United, 30October 2012 (Co-op News, October 2012).·      A distributed model is advisable and Sweden provides a good example. (See a forthcoming WPC case study arising from a 2011 study visit).
·      We start from the assumption that most care services, are best provided within the community rather than in higher cost institutions.·      Providing a ‘positive public policy framework’ for co-ops, including ‘public – social partnerships’ and other forms of member-controlled enterprises.

·        It may be possible also to draw upon other sectors in the UK with similar requirements as the social care sector, e.g. friendly societies pre- and post NHS, Miners’ welfare organisations.

·      Co-ops, mutuals and other forms of member-controlled enterprises need to become the enterprise models of choice in many sectors but especially in the social care/services sector. See download - Why we need member-controlled enterprises

·    It is important that any benchmarks established should not be limited to the volumes of turnover and measures applicable to profit-driven businesses, and in particular, not focused upon market-share, by enterprises simply bearing a label that implies that it is a co-op or mutual. Instead we need benchmarks which measure the achievement of the required outcomes, and whether or not co-ops and mutuals are really member-controlled, and truly responsive to the needs of their members whilst providing value for money.

Comment (0) Hits: 2725

Co-operative and Mutuals Commission: call for evidence

The Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission - set up by the welsh Labour Government to help create more jobs and wealth in the sector - has put out a call for evidence from interested organisations and individuals throughout Wales.

ON THIS WEBSITE, you can comment, directly and publicly, on the Calls for Evidence below. It is worth registering as a user of the website first, for easier commenting, and you can use your Facebook credentials if you are a Facebook user

In Wales, co-operatives generate more than £1billion in income a year and employ an estimated 7,000 people ( 2010 figures).  The independent commission was set up by Welsh Labour’s Business Minister Edwina Hart to develop a vision and framework to support the growth of the sector and improve services in Wales. The Commission is examining a wide range of issues and looking at the opportunities for developing and growing co-operatives and mutuals in Wales, discussing the role they should take in the delivery of public services in Wales; the scope for expanding their operations and how the Welsh Government can support the formation and growth of co-operatives and mutuals in Wales.

Comment (0) Hits: 2589

Co-operative and Mutual Commission Priorities
? Discussion Paper

Please comment paragraph by paragraph on the Blog version of this document, on the menu above at Co-op+Mutual priorities

Inevitably choices will need to be made, and to succeed they will need to be driven by members in satisfying local needs. To support a broad ranging public conversation and evidence to the Commission we have identified a number of topics for discussion.

We hope you can add to those listed below.


Lay leadership and leadership development

Where are the leaders for future development? The very nature of co-operative organisation calls for elected lay leaders alongside professional employees. We need to give immediate attention to processes by which volunteers of high calibre emerge and move into leadership positions.

The best lay leaders, both women and men, will not see co-operatives as an end in themselves, but rather as the means towards creating a better society. Without this vital element business leaders and technocrats will tend to judge and direct co-operatives as the business dictates.

Co-operative Education and Member Engagement

Building Co-ops and growing a new generation of co-operators should be an exercise from the bottom up.As Arnold Bonner emphasises in his classic ‘British Co-operation’ (1961), “…for the most important products of the Co-operative Movement are co-operators and if it fails to produce these it may well end with producing nothing – for it cannot exist without them”. Unless this is actively supported both within the Co-operative sector and the wider education system we will not create co-operators. Without co-operators the Commission cannot be successful in achieving its prime objectives.

Co-operatives and mutuals through their own democratic and autonomous structures have a prime responsibility to provide leadership and strategic direction. To be successful this will require an informed and engaged members and the application of co-operative values and principles. We recommend the Commission challenges all co-operative organisations to review and to improve the effectiveness of arrangements for delivering co-operative education and meaningful member engagement.

Social Co-operatives

Social co-operatives can make a tangible contribution to improving the quality of care and wellbeing. The most obvious area for future development will be their role in providing social care, responding to different local needs and tapping into varied funding streams. In addition they ensure the voice of different stakeholders (service users, workers and community supporters) are effectively heard in the planning, design and delivery of services, whilst recognising the importance of status, training and pay in a largely feminised workforce. See also evidence we commissioned and presented to the National Assembly Health and Social Care Committee Residential Care Inquiry on 8 February 2012

They can make a very practical contribution to achieving public sector Equality Strategy targets. Curiously, we see little on the gender of the workforce in the latest annual summary of social services statistics for Wales: 
<; in the forthcoming Social Services (Wales) Bill, or in implementation action planning. With so little work force data available about non-statutory employees it is difficult to see how government can plan in such a vacuum. 

Community (Co-operative) Energy Schemes

Community energy schemes have been developing in many areas of Wales in recent years. According to Co-ops UK, a growing proportion of these schemes are being set up as co-operatives or mutuals, In areas of Europe such as Denmark and Germany where renewable energy is a significant and growing area of energy supply, it has been co-operative structures and joint ventures between co-operatives and local authorities that have been a key to success.

Additionally and vitally, policy support from Government for these public-social partnerships to develop the green energy sector and green jobs has enabled the scaling up to be achieved. The Commission should take on board the lessons from such success and investigate how to overcome the barriers in Wales to enable energy co-operatives to empower local communities, create green jobs and play a strategic role in both reducing carbon emissions and tackling fuel poverty across Wales.

Community (Co-operative) Supported Agriculture

Another growth sector involving co-ops is the local food movement. Farmers markets, community food hubs, community supported agriculture and other local food ventures are growing. For a good number of years the Welsh Government has actively supported Food Co-operatives. Moreover there is grassroots enthusiasm for developing the opportunities to increase the proportion of locally grown food. Co-operative and mutual organisations enable communities to support local farmers through purchase agreements or to assist communities to act corporately to raise social investment and to lease or buy plots of land for developing allotments governed by plot holders.

The National Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens is developing community land partnerships to support both collaboration and landshare agreements between landowners and community food groups to release the untapped potential. The University of Cardiff has reviewed activity in the community food sector and has pointed to the quality of life benefits, regeneration benefits, the community involvement aspects, the educational benefits and scope to extend this potential further to secure evident social, ecological and economic impact.

Co-operative housing and Community Land Trusts

Wales has not succeeded in developing co-operative housing, unlike the USA, Canada, Sweden, Germany and Denmark. The current work by the Welsh Government that is investigating new opportunities for co-operative housing, mutual home ownership and community land trusts is therefore welcome. There is a major opportunity in this area and it is good to see the involvement of the Confederation of Co-operative Housing and CDS Co-operatives on this working party.

The Community Land Trust aspect of this work provides a potential unifying structure to bring together a broad range of co-operative action locally including co-operative solutions for community energy, community food provision and other aspects of community regeneration. The Commission should examine the scope to use Community Land Trusts as an enabling structure for co-operative economic development across a broad range of essential goods and services.

We hope you can comment and add to those listed. You may do so by going to: Co-op+Mutual priorities on the menu above.

David Smith
Wales Progressive Co-operators

& Newport Co-operators

Anderley Lodge
216 Stow Hill
NP20 4HA

(01633) 266781




Comment (0) Hits: 14631

Social Co-operatives: A New Model of Social Care in Wales. Discussion Paper

Please comment paragraph by paragraph on the Blog version of this document, on the menu above at Social Co-op Grassroots

1. We will not be able to meet the challenges and respond to the increase in social care needs with a single, uniform approach. Wales Progressive and Newport Co-operators believe that social care co-operatives are an important part of the mix because the co-operative model champions ethical values and principles as well as economic success through self-reliance. Responses to the challenges will depend on local needs and circumstances, including the level and quality of local authority and other provision.

2. The provision of social care service co-operatives have developed over the past 35 years since they were first established in Italy. This model empowers services users, their families, paid staff and volunteers to participate in the design and delivery of services best suited to them. This is what distinguishes co-operatives from other social enterprises such as mutuals.

3. Most co-operative models also encourage active involvement of local community interests. They attract low cost communal forms of capital, and active involvement with statutory planners and service providers. A Social co-op should not be regarded as an alternative to properly funded public services, but rather as complementary and additional to them. They are a means of testing how those services are conceived, designed and delivered.

4. The concept of co-operative principles we have promoted over the last few years could be applied beneficially to the provision of social care. The co-operative movement and statutory authorities have largely accepted our model. The challenge now is twofold. First, to translate that theory into practice and show that multi-stakeholder social care co-operatives are a viable alternative in Wales. Second, to improve wellbeing and the quality of services to our ageing population.

Next Steps

5.  Last summer a small steering group was brought together to take these issues forward and issued a draft consultation document. This however had a limited response. Possibly because we did not make it sufficiently clear that it was not our intention to direct developments from the centre.

THIS paper considers  how to take this matter forward in developing a social care co-operative movement in Wales and is the approach being adopted in Newport.

6. We need to encourage groups of people to identify needs and ways of addressing them using co-operative principles of self help organisation. This is not about direction from the centre. Deciding what outside support is needed from those with relevant knowledge, experience and expertise is a matter for the local groups themselves to determine.

7. The value of Co-operative businesses has evolved over 160 years as a worldwide movement. A pre-condition for social co-operatives are its members. Leadership must be driven by the grassroots if they are to achieve their potential.

8. Without grassroots initiatives there is no raw material to build upon. One of the main challenges is how we encourage, enable and support the emergence of local social co-operative groups. The use of community development methods can help participants to respond to any external support needs, which they themselves identify - possibly by means of a ‘federal group’that they themselves would elect. This kind of approach will hopefully lead to authentic, sustainable developments that will encourage other groups to participate.

9. We also need to consider how social care co-operatives might communicate with each other and with the wider co-operative movement and to what extent we can assist this process. The Global Media Hub arm of the Co-operative Press can help with this.

10. We can also perhaps learn from the experience of the Scottish Co-production Network. This is an informal and inclusive, "free and open to anyone who is interested in co-production in Scotland". This has a wide remit, but a wider forum involving housing, credit unions, food, food retail, financial institutions, community pharmacy, funeral care, education and time-banking etc might prove very useful. It would enable us to build effective links and a shared sense of purpose that a successful 2012 UN Year of Co-operatives should lead to a 2021 Co-operative Decade.

Comment (0) Hits: 7978

Mrs Hilda Smith gets MBE!

Wales Office
Swyddfa Cymru

Mrs Hilda Smith MBE
28 December 2012

Dear Mrs Smith,

I am writing to congratulate you warmly on your recognition in the New Year's Honours list today. It should be a source of great pride to you and your family and friends that Her Majesty has ordered that you should be presented with an MBE for services to Vulnerable and Older People.

These Honours recognise only those who have given their utmost and enriched the lives of those around them, with little thought to recompense or reward. It may sometimes have felt that your efforts went unnoticed or unappreciated, and I hope the deserved messages of congratulations over the coming days and weeks will persuade you that they have been noticed and deeply appreciated. I am proud to add my thanks and congratulations.

With very best regards,

The Rt Hon / Y Gwir Anrh David Jones MP/AS
Secretary of State for Wales
Ysgrifennydd Gwladol Cymru

Comment (0) Hits: 2692

Welcome to members of the Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission

Commenting on the Minister announcement of members of Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission, David Smith states:

We anticipate the Commission will be open and innovative and await details of its perspectives and time scale.

We aim to support co-operators submitting evidence and in giving voice to the voice less. Our focus will be on social co-operatives.

Co-operative education, sector strategies and embedding co-operative values will be key issues.

Comment (0) Hits: 2457

National Assembly for Wales Social Co-operatives Briefing

At a National Assembly “social care and direct payments and the role of co-operatives and mutual in social care” debate to be held on November 28th 2012, Assembly Members are urged to support the inclusion of a definition of Social Co-operatives in the forthcoming Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Bill 2013.

  Social co-operatives are rather unique and a new breed of co-operative because they are structured with a multi-stakeholder membership and a multi-stakeholder governance. This dynamic structure has the potential to be radically transformative because of the ways both service providers (paid and volunteer) and service users (and their families) can be linked up in detailed aspects of the co-design, co-development and co-delivery of services. Social co-operatives thereby provide a robust democratic system for delivering on the growing policy and practical interest in the wider co-production of social and well-being services.

2012 UN Year of Co-operatives

An extensive awareness raising programme involving international specialists Jean-Pierre Girard and John Restakis, 14 events and 750 people resulted in our writing to the Deputy Minister in July 2012. We urged prioritising the recognition of Social Co-operatives. The objectives set out below have now been forwarded to the Social Services and Wellbeing Bill Team. In our letter to Gwenda Thomas AM we stated:

“Social Co-operative Objectives"

All have been impressed by the human rights vision contained in the Social Services Bill (Wales) consultation. However, there is a widespread view that the Bill needs to be more clearly prescriptive of actions, which will deliver this vision. We believe that four guiding objectives would be helpful when instructions are given to those drafting the legislation:

Comment (0) Hits: 2089

Page 2 of 7

Hilda Smith, feminist and co-operator

Hilda Smith, MBE - ‘To hope, to dare and do’.

Hilda Smith, a distinguished feminist and co-operator, died recently aged 94. Born and raised in Burnley, she started work at 14 earning six shillings a week in a sewing factory.

Active in the feminist, co-operative and labour movements for over 50 years, her relentless commitment to social and gender equality stands out as an example of selfless commitment to the wellbeing and welfare of others. Hilda constantly fought for the things that she believed in, she was practically minded, compassionate and stoical in her determination.

Hilda started her political career in 1958 serving her apprenticeship in Woking Co-operative Womens Guild. In 1963 she was elected to the Political Purposes Committee of the influential Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society (RACS), becoming its first and only female chair within a short space of time. RACS was the only Society directly affiliated to the Labour Party. She used her influence to ensure that the voice of ordinary women and their families was heard by the Labour Party and Government, with easy access to Labour Ministers and Prime Minsters.

For Hilda, the 'personal was the political'. As a women who entered formal education in her mid forties, Hilda knew from experience that access to social, educational and economic opportunities was a key issue. She worked alongside prominent women MPs and trade union leaders on the National Joint Committee of Working Women (NJC), to bring about the introduction of the Equal Pay Act in 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975, and the formation of the Equal Opportunities Commission, who took steps to bring this to the fore.

As a patient in a TB sanatorium from 1947 to 1950, Hilda understood the importance of preventive health. She contributed extensively on health policy issues and chaired an NJC national working group which produced a comprehensive ‘Health Care for Women’ policy document (1977), (Virago). As a former nurse and as a social worker, Hilda contributed extensively to the NJC’s evidence to Government inquiries. including the Seebohm Committee (1969), the Finer Commission on Single Parent Families (1974), and the NHS Royal Commission (1979). She championed new and neglected issues and, in 1982, authored an NJC food policy statement which recommended developing a Government policy on food and nutrition to build a national approach to healthy eating. .

Throughout, she was never concerned with courting popularity. In 1981, against wider conventional opinion she supported a National Minimum Wage campaign because she knew this would help millions of women.

In 1990 she received a Shadow Ministry for Women award for “her lifetime, particularly within the Co-operative Movement, fighting for equality for women and for their full representation at all levels of the Labour Movement”.

Her meticulously-kept NJC papers and encouragement led Labour historian Christine Collette to take a fresh look in her book, the ‘Newer Eve’, at what was called the ‘second wave of feminism'.

On retiring to Wales, Hilda continued her work as Health Convenor for the Fawcett Society. She was very active for another 26 years and was awarded an MBE in the 2013 Honours List for “services to frail and vulnerable people”.

It is hard to measure the impact of Hilda Smith upon the way in which we have become committed to equality over the last 40 years. Her quiet determination and relentless passion helped to improve the lives of many people who will never know her name or understand her contribution. She lived life with purpose and with passion to deliver a greater vision of a fair and just society, and helped to make this world a better place.

David Smith

Hilda is survived by her sons Peter and myself, three grandchildren and nine grandchildren

Hilda Smith, born 10 February 1919, died 27 March 2013


Go to top