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:

a). To prioritise the recognition of Social Co-operatives and other forms of user controlled delivery models such as co-production;

b). To support co-operation and mutual support amongst Social Co-operatives and amongst service providers;

c). To recognise the affinity of purpose between local authorities and Social Co-operatives and to promote collaboration between them;

d). To promote the use of the multi-stakeholder Social Co-operative model to strengthen links between key stakeholders including users, carers, support workers, community supporters and local authorities”.

It is equally relevant to note that a definition of Social Co-operatives will be significant feature in future housing and sustainable development legislation. We organised two international workshops at the recent finale to 2012 UN Year of Co-operatives and this is reported at

Specific issues to be covered by the debate

Specific issues to be covered by the debate can be found in our response to the Welsh Government Consultation Document: Social Services (Wales) Bill (1st June 2012). Information on Direct Payments and issues not covered by this consultation can be found below. The importance of supporting structures is stressed. In evidence presented to the Wales Co-operative and Mutual Commission, we emphasise Co-operatives exist to meet member needs and they cannot exist without them. Co-operative education is a key issue and we would be pleased to brief members further if required.


Q35 Proposal to bring together legislation regarding the provision of Direct Payments in Wales

Q36 Proposals to allow Welsh Ministers broad powers to extend the existing Direct Payments arrangements so that they can introduce an effective model of self directed support and control

Q37 Other ways in which Direct Payments could be extended beyond the current scheme

We would agree with the proposals in 35 and 36. However, it is significant that the take up by older people in England is far less than for those with disabilities. To work for older people, there will have to be a more extensive support system. There are also risks of financial abuse by relatives. Another complicating factor is that in some areas of Wales services are simply not available for holders of Direct Payment to purchase. There is also the risk that Direct Payments will only partially empower the citizen as consumer.

We are reminded of the words of the Rochdale Pioneers when promoting consumer co-operation in the nineteenth century:

“Your greatest weapon is your purchasing power, provided it is organised; unorganised, it is a weapon that is used to keep you in subjection” (Laidlaw, 1980)

We would urge that the development of a Welsh Model of Self Directed Support incorporates the development of multi stakeholder co-operative models of organisation in which Direct Payment holders can exert greater purchaser power as a collective for the purposes of obtaining administrative and other support, and for shaping the pattern of local services.  

Superior transformation model

Although choice of provider can be important, this model seems far superior in delivering the promise of transforming the delivery of social care/services. Much reference has been made to the concept of co-production, which we support. The difficulty is that without precise definition it can easily become all things to all people and just another slogan. The multi-stakeholder model is our view provides a substantive term of what we think co-production means in terms of governance and service delivery. Please see Question 98. Whilst we could support the proposed powers in 36 and 37, we would urge caution in the use of powers without strong evidence from pilot schemes.

Collaboration in integrated services; pooled budgets and other flexibilities

Q.55 Do we agree with the proposal to introduce a single consistent set of powers relating to the creation of formal partnerships in Wales, for the purpose of delivering integrated services?

Q56 Definition of Regulations and guidance for formal partnerships and pooled budgets

No reference to the third sector

We support the proposals on partnerships, but we are disappointed about the lack of reference to third sector organisations. It would have been helpful if reference had been made to the development of guidance about flexible commissioning and organisational structures that enable partnerships with other organisations that can demonstrate effective governance arrangements that put service users at the centre of planning and delivery (eg multi-stakeholder cooperatives).

The significance of infra structure

Pooled budgets may be less important than the ability of partners to create structures, which focus on areas of greatest social/health needs and inequalities. The aims set out are positive, but a further consultation on how to achieve stronger partnership working and use of pilot projects to demonstrate innovative models in terms of citizen-centred governance and service delivery (such as multi-stakeholder co-operatives) would be welcome. This would be especially useful where there is scope for integration across health and social care services.



a. Co-operatives are membership organisations

Although the government and its institutions have an important and legitimate role to, play in encouraging co-operation, the initiative for the formation of independent co-operative businesses will have to come as in the past, from perspective co-operators themselves. People as workers, service users or community supporters cannot be forced to co-operate. The government can encourage and provide appropriate circumstances to grow what is some times called ‘social capital, but it cannot create community engagement and co-operative enterprise. This must come from people themselves, with the necessary enthusiasm and commitment to do so.

b. We do not visualize local authorities or municipal enterprise and cooperatives as rivals in the mutual growth of each other. …. Not one in conflict with the other but both jointly, to the benefit of the consuming public.

c. ‘Cooperatives’, ‘mutuals’ and  ‘social enterprises’

The language we use, and the definition of concepts thought to empower are especially important. This is because the variety of models offered to achieve the reform of the social care system said to achieve ‘co-production’ will have varying capacities to enable citizen’s voice and control and, let alone increased wellbeing. Clearly, this will vary depend upon the model adopted. We must therefore be aware of using terms such as ‘cooperatives’, ‘mutuals’ and  ‘social enterprises’ as if they are interchangeable concepts. They are not.

d. Co-operative Multi-Stakeholder model

In our view the Co-operative Multi-Stakeholder model is a particular form of co-operative which has the greatest possibilities for transforming the relationship between the service user – as an owner and member and the organisation providing care. They also providemore generally the opportunity for transforming other public services. So not only could consumer based co-ops contribute to the transformation of social

e. Historically, co-operatives have had two roots – see Appendix One. One consumer co-operatives and the other worker co-operatives. With the Welsh Governments focusing upon citizen centred service delivery the multi stakeholder model is better placed to sustainably meet the needs of service users thorough involving service user, worker and wider community interests service planning and delivery.

f. The wider relevance of the multi-stakeholder model for public service reform

This model of multi-stakeholder co-operation is not restricted to local service delivery, but it can also be embraced as a tool of government, but its relevance goes much wider than this, to how services are organised and governed within the public sphere, indeed how the principles and practices of co-operation bear on all parts of today’s multi faceted economy.

g. Therefore one reservation about the Bill (and the Sustainable Development Bill) is that although it opens up scope for closer integration with other services, especially health functions, the opportunities presented by the co-operative Multi-Stakeholder model are left unexplored.

Annex A: extract from our consultation evidence

 1.   The Wales Progressive Co-operators (WPC) is a membership association that seeks to promote co-operative activity in Wales based on:

        i.          Clear adherence to the internationally approved Principles and Values of co-operation

        ii.         Grass-roots engagement at individual and community levels

        iii.        International collaboration and shared learning between co-operators

It is a new association with a small membership, which is growing rapidly as a result of a continuous programme of learning events and engagement with public and citizen service developments.

2.   WPC is currently working in close partnership with Cartrefi Cymru, the national third sector social care agency, on a long-term strategic programme of activities aimed particularly at identifying and promoting co-operative solutions to the challenges of social care in Wales. Activities to date include:

        ·           A Study Day in Caerphilly in 2010 (under the auspices of WCVA’s Network 3) which brought together the co-operative movement and the social care third sector for the first time, resulting in the report “Shaping the Future of Care”.

        ·           A seminar in Cardiff in 2011 (in partnership with PSMW) in which the international co-operative specialist Robin Murray spoke about the ideas in his book “Co-operation in the Age of Google”.

        ·           A seminar in Abercwmboi in 2011 (in partnership with Interlink RCT and VAMT) which brought together a range of speakers about co-operation and social care, leading to an application for funding for a disability employment co-operative in RCT which is still proceeding.

        ·           A visit to Wales in February 2012 by Jean-Pierre Girard to share knowledge of the home care co-operatives in Quebec to Welsh Ministers, the H&SC Committee and grassroots activities.

        ·           A seminar in May 2012 which brought together members of the co-operative movement, central and local government, the third sector and citizens, to identify a way forward for the nurturing of co-operative care options in Wales. This seminar has particularly informed the WPC response to the Social Services Bill.

        ·           Detailed planning for a visit in June 2012 of the leading Canadian co-operative expert John Restakis to speak to Ministers and AMs, the PSMW summer school, the joint conference of WACDS and WCVA’s Network 3, the ADSS Cymru conference, and grassroots meetings in Newport, Cardiff, Neath/Port Talbot and Conw

Contact details:

David Smith, Wales Progressive Co-operators 01633 266781

Adrian Roper, Cartrefi Cymru 029 2064 2270

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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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