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




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Hilda Smith: a tribute by the Chair of the S Wales Area Committee, the Co-operative, 9 April 2013

As I’m sure you are all aware - with the death of Hilda Smith last month at the great age of 94 - Co-operation has lost a great advocate and worker. Hilda was a former member of this Committee and in such circumstances members would normally take the opportunity of a Committee meeting to pay tributes.

Our circumstances on this occasion are rather different as we have Hilda’s son David as one of our current members.

David has intimated to me that he has been very touched and moved by all the letters and cards of sympathy he has received from Co-operative colleagues expressing sadness at Hilda’s passing and for the wonderful contributions she has made.

He does not feel that he could emotionally cope with a series of tributes this evening and in these circumstances what I propose to do, as Chair, is to make a SINGLE tribute on behalf of us all, followed by a period of silence during which we can all privately reflect on Hilda as a person and a co-operator.

I have known Hilda for getting on for 20 years –not as long as some on this Committee have known her – but still a long time. When she joined the South Wales Committee of the Co-operative Group, I think in 2009, she must have been by a long stretch, its oldest “new” member, although she had been a member of many co-op committees before.

She was very active in what can now be seen as a golden age of Co-operation in the 1930’s and was particularly engaged in the campaigning illustrated in the wonderful films of the London Co-operative Society, with themes of Internationalism, Education Pacifism and Feminism. We have to remember, Hilda was not all that far behind the Pankhurst’s and she was born just after the ending of the First World War.

As many of us know, Hilda was completely passionate about what she believed in and was always a strong advocate for the same.  She was always a master of her brief and fastidious in studying her papers and making reasoned and detailed contributions.

She had a powerful intellect but was still very interested in making practical observations about what a store should stock, what services it should give to the customers/ members and how they could be engaged at shop level.

I remember her observing back in the early days of Recession, that the support work of the Co-operative Group, through such things as the Community Divided Fund would become far more vital, as Public Expenditure Cuts bite and she is being proven right.

To think when she arrived in South Wales in 1986, she did not come for a rest, because at the age of 76, she set about with vigour in a whole new co-operative and mutual scene.

 She was instrumental in establishing the Newport University of the Third Age, The Wales Food Alliance- together with David – which had a number of collaborations with the Group. She was a member of the WG Older Persons Advisory Committee and made a considerable contribution to policy formulation. Of late she has been engaged in modelling social enterprises to deliver home care.

I last saw Hilda at the Members meeting last year at St Fagan’s, when the meeting was somewhat hijacked by Disability Rights Protesters.  I will remember her contribution for a very long time. She was not prepared to sit idly by but rose to make an impassioned speech about how Co-operatives had been at the forefront of protecting and promoting the rights of the disabled for getting on for 100 years.

David, Hilda was highly principled, creative, dynamic not just a thinker and dreamer about the Co-operative Commonwealth but who has actually contributed to help make it happen over 60 or 70 years.

We are all the better for knowing her and she has left you with much to live up to!

Brian Rees

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