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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 www.M-cEnterprise.org 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 http://www.senedd.assemblywales.org/mgIssueHistoryHome.aspx?IId=1309

·      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 www.M-cEnterprise.org/downloads

·    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.

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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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