Questions for events

Evidence to the Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission ‘Voice, Choice and Control for Older People – a Co-operative Future’ submission by David Smith

.... Background

Hilda Smith and I have worked in partnership for nearly four decades in promoting Co-operative Development. Hilda initiated and drafted the resolution at the 1976 Labour Party conference, which successfully proposed the establishment of local Co-operative Development Agencies as part of the Government’s interventionist approach to regional economic planning. I followed this up in Wales with practical action, as the then Director of the EC funded South Wales Anti-Poverty Action Centre, in establishing in partnership with local authorities, four local CDAs: West Glamorgan Common Ownership Development Agency, Antur Teifi, North Wales Employment and Resource Centre and Gwent Common Ownership Development Association, from 1977 onwards.

In retiring to Wales, Hilda was later appointed as a lay member of the Government’s National Partnership Forum for Older People (2006-2012). She used every opportunity to promote the Co-operative business model, including contributing to official working groups concerned with Phase 2 of the Strategy for Older People (2008-2012), the Government's ‘Dignity in Care’ Programme (2011) and reviewing the National Service Framework for Older People (2011). Making no visible impact, from 2009 we again combined efforts to promote user controlled co-operative approaches, through conferences, workshops and publications, with financial support from our Co-operative Society. The Wales Co-op Centre were approached in 2010 but, although sympathetic at that time, they were unable to support social services development without specific Ministerial support.

We initiated the Welsh Branch of the Progressive Co-operators on International Co-operators Day 2011 in preparation for 2012 UN Year of Co-operatives. Hilda proposed that we invite international co-op experts Jean-Pierre Girard (Quebec) and John Restakis (Executive Director of the British Columbia Co-operative Association) and subsequently hosted these co-operators in her home in February and June 2012. During 2012, other people and organisations became involved, but our abiding memory was one of frustration experienced in advancing co-operative solutions over many years in seeking to change a deeply engrained culture, based upon state provision and then increasingly privatised provision.


1.    What opportunities are there for developing and growing co-operatives and mutuals in Wales?

Member-controlled Enterprises (MCEs)arise whenever people decide in common to work together to meet their needs. MCEs must of necessity be established by people coming together of their own free will and must be responsive to the needs they themselves identify. Member education, lay leadership development and sector-specific intelligence and technical support will be fundamental to getting active citizens as active players in the co-operative. It is stressed that unless co-ops, and other forms of MCEs, are truly member-controlled and are focused upon delivering upon their purpose, then there is no reason to expect that they will deliver any better services than any other form of organisation. It may well create wealth and employment, but this not their primary purpose.

One of the most pressing social issues facing Wales today is the lack of access to quality affordable care for older people. Stories of hardship have become a staple part of news coverage since the publication of ‘Happier Old Age’ (Welsh Office, 1978). But now, with our ageing population, elder care is emerging as one of the most urgent challenges facing our society. The crisis which is unfolding is well known to government. One significant contributory cause is demographic, but the key issues are the absence of adequate organisational, human and financial resources for the provision of affordable and accessible elder care in communities where older people live. 

Based on extensive public consultation, in submitting evidence to the Strategy for Older People in February 2013, Hilda identified two examples of effective interventions that the Welsh Government should consider.

Food Train

Social Co-ops

The third phase of the Strategy for Older People (SfOP) is to be launched in Cardiff Bay on 22 May 2013. Although at least two detailed SfOP consultation responses proposed co-operative solutions, this perspective does not appear to be evident in recent reports to be considered by the 2 May 2013 National Partnership Forum for Older People. A helpful person managing the SfOP consultation in January was unaware of the Commission’s existence, although senior officials were and had met with Jean-Pierre Girard and John Restakis in 2012. 

One of the potential shortcomings of the Commission being sponsored by one Government Division is the need to achieve the necessary level of co-ordination and ‘buy in’ across Welsh Government. For example, it is understood that a "Promotion of Citizen Directed Support: A national summit of key stakeholders will be held in late April 2013 to examine existing practice and identify strategic priorities for taking forward a national approach to Citizen Directed Support across Wales."  However, it is unclear if and how this will connect with the Commission's work. Part of the problem could be that Government has not yet publicly consulted on its ‘Social Services Social Enterprise Action Plan’?

Once the Commission has reported to the BETS Minister, it will be essential for the Cabinet to ensure that the significance of recommendations are factored across all relevant Government priorities and programmes, including initiatives such as the proposed Principles for a National Co-op Elder Care Programme and the adaptation of franchising models for the provision of social care by local communities – question 3.

2       What role should co-operatives and mutuals take in the delivery of  public services in Wales?

Our belief that Member Controlled Enterprises are the best vehicle for the provision of quality, cost-effective social support services is backed up by international experience in countries such as Canada and Italy - respectively   and  This is especially true where the enterprise has 3 membership categories – the service users/informal carers, the workers or service providers and community supporters.

The challenge is to be clear about some of the deep-seated problems in social care and health and to clarify the practical solutions which co-operative models can bring. This needs detailed work in disentangling some of our present complex structures and funding mechanisms in supporting a co-operative social care model, which would work in Wales and which could help to resolve some of the seemingly intractable problems in social care and health services in Wales.

3          How can the Welsh Government support the formation and growth of  co-operatives and mutuals in Wales?

The institutional framework in Canada and Quebec has similarities but also differences from Wales, especially the highly regarded legal status of co-operatives in Quebec. It would be appropriate if lessons could be drawn from the innovative Canadian experience. See Appendix 1.

If we are to commence as we intend to proceed to scale up service user control, with a trusted, quality approach to service delivery, it is recommended that both the Commission and Welsh Government keenly observe developments taking place in Canada. The most innovative aspects of this programme being directed by John Restakis, with federal Government support, is the adaptation of franchising models for the provision of social care by local communities.

Using a social franchising model for the replication and development of community based elder care, and focusing on care models that provide control rights to users and their families, will address a major social issue that affects every Welsh person and every community and brings a host of advantages that come with a user-controlled model. Regardless of the type of elder care, it is recommended that Government ensures:

(a) That in accordance with good community development practice the service responds to a genuine and documented need and has the backing of the community, and

(b) That it promotes user control over the services.

4       What scope is there for existing co-operatives and mutuals to expand their operations in Wales and to assist other co-operatives to set up and grow?

It may be helpful for Commissioners to know that the following questions have been sent to a Social Services Director and XXXX - an English based worker co-operative:

            1.         Can XXXX operate outside of the LA block contracting process?

            2.         Why should there be a focus upon block contracts if the intention is for the local authorities to move strongly in the direction of Direct                              Payments?

            3.         Where is the capital cost coming from, and what would be the estimated start up costs for (a) Newport, (b) XXXX Cymru?

            4.         What experience do XXXX have of involving service users and local community interests?

            5.         Could XXXX Cymru be established separate from XXXX England?

            6.         How do XXXX terms and conditions of employment vary between English block contracts, and how do these compare with Welsh LA                          terms and conditions of employment? (Do employees receive extra payment for unsocial hours, zero hour contracts, allowance for                          travel time, etc?)

            7.         In respect of TUPE transfer, how will future employment liabilities and pension arrangements be funded?

5          Have you ever considered setting up or converting to a co-operative   or mutual enterprise?

                  Yes, Newport Social Care Co-operative

6       If so, where did you go for information and support and did you   receive appropriate advice?

We received appropriate advice from:

·         Two international co-op experts Jean-Pierre Girard from Quebec and John Restakis, Executive Director of the British Columbia Co-operative Association

·         A social co-operative workshop organised by the Welsh Progressive Co-operators at the Co-ops United Expo event in October 2012

·         Laurie Gregory, chair of the Foster Care Co-operative, and Mick Taylor of Mutual Advantage have been assiduous in their support from 2009, and other UK colleagues

·         The Leader, Cabinet members and elected members of Newport City Council and the Director of Social Services and commissioning staff

·         The Health and Social and Wellbeing Facilitator, Gwent Association of Voluntary Organisations (Newport)

We are awaiting a response from:

·         Last week an application was made to the Co-operative Groups Enterprise Hub for specialist consultancy

·         Two well-established employee-owned companies in this field: Stewartry Care ( and Highland Home Carers ( Co-op & Community Finance are a lender to the latter

We also received a kind offer of assistance from the Wales Co-op Centre and informal liaison takes place.

At this stage, traditional ‘business’ advice is not required, but rather help in understanding the ‘enterprise model’, human organisation, leadership development and member Co-operative education to provide the knowledge and skills that will empower the members to deliver upon their purpose.


7          If you have received business advice in Wales, were you provided with information about the co-operative and mutual business models? How helpful was that advice? In what ways could it be improved?

Improvement: One of the best ways of promoting such developments is through the development of local networks, resources, and community partnerships that enable communities to provide a variety of elder care services where people already live. Given the scale of development required over the next two decades, I envisage the local creation of Co-operative Development Agencies (CDAs) in partnership with local authorities, which was the pattern in Wales prior to the Wales Co-operative Centre. This would be supportive of maximising local accountability, social capital and reciprocity, effectively accessing local resources and the promotion of the Co-operative principle of ‘Co-operation between Co-operatives’, which is exemplified in the evolution of a strong Co-operative economy in Emilia Romagna (Italy), for example. Please see question 6.

8          What constraints are you aware of in establishing and expanding co- operatives and can you suggest ways of getting around them?

It is anticipated that Newport Social Care Co-operative will provide the Commission with a case study.

Overall, what is needed is a set of practical proposals.

Strategies now need to be formulated with service users seeking to establish to provide practical ways of supporting the development of sustainable enterprises committed to delivering services that meet the real needs of those in need of care and other social services. Such strategies are most likely to be based upon co-operatives and mutual forms of enterprise that should always:

  • remain fully committed to their purpose
  • act in the best interests of their members/ service users
  • act with integrity
  • treat all of their members/service users equally
  • remain autonomous
  • ensure their sustainability and continuity

If such enterprises/service providers are to become prevalent, then it is essential the necessary investment is made in providing the education, training and development for the people that will both lead and participate within them.


9       Are there ways in which the use of information technology and social media could be used to strengthen the co-operative and mutual economy in Wales?

This will be considered in the context of Newport Social Care Co-operative business plan. More generally, the most significant use of information technology and social media yet to be fully exploited by many member-controlled enterprises are the opportunities that it can provide for improving the quality of the participation of members in the planning and control of their enterprises.

Appendix One

Draft Principles for a National Co-op Elder Care Program – extract of a Canadian Elder Care report prepared by a Task Force headed by John Restakis (2008)

As in the past, the co-op movement in Canada has a unique opportunity to apply the co-op model at a systemic level to an issue of central concern to Canadians. Like co-op housing, elder care co-ops can flourish if certain principles and supports are put in place.

1.The co-op model(s) generated by the program must be locally owned            and responsive to local needs and conditions.

2.The program should be flexible.

3.The program should address different needs of different users (low   income/middle income, rural/urban, high need/low need).

4.The program should be linked to existing co-op structures (housing co-        ops, funeral co-ops, health care co-ops, and social and solidarity co-         ops).

5.The development of the program should be accompanied by advocacy         for supportive legislation and public policy.

6.The program should seek and accommodate some degree of supportive government funding.

7.The co-op model(s) used by the program should be clear, easy to       understand, replicable, and accessible to a broad range of users.

8.The program should anticipate and be responsive to future needs and          trends.

9.The program should integrate both a national and a local dimension.

Appendix 2


Recommendations to the NationalAssembly for Wales Health and Social Care Committee Residential Care Inquiry into the residential care needs of older people by Wales Progressive Co-operators in December 2011.

That, during United Nations International Year of Co-operatives 2012:

(a)      Wales should take an international approach to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of social innovations in relation to the provision of care   services to an ageing population, and a vigorous approach to practical,          local application.

(b)       Co-operatives in Wales should urgently focus upon the importance of co-operative education to increase awareness and understanding of what is      distinctive about co-operative approaches in this sector and increase their    membership.Co-operative education should help to engage more people             in the debate to build interest in the cooperative model and start to generate a commitment to doing things differently.  

 (c)       Active consideration should be given to the drafting (as in Canada) of        ‘Principles for a National Co-op Elder Care Programme’ toensure older people have a democratic stakeholder model;as part of the Third Phase of the Older Peoples Strategy consultation,in April 2012, to give dignity in            care. These principles can be found at Appendix One.

(d)       Older people, and others, establish a ‘Council of Elders’, as a source of     wisdom, to provide mutual support and assistance in enabling the development of Co-operative Home Care Services drawing upon             international experience.

(e)       Non statutory bodies seeking to benefit from government grants should     sign a register to commit to providing ‘controlrights’ to service users so       they have a greater say inensuing the needs of service users are central      to delivering the service.



28 April 2013

John Restakis’s visit to Wales: Key Points June 2012

1.  John welcomed the emphasis placed in the forthcoming Social Services Bill on the need for services to be user-centred and user-directed, the need to increase service users’ access to information and the need for early intervention.

2.  John argued that to put this vision into practice it is necessary to ensure that users participate as equals in the governance of the body providing services and that this can best be achieved in a co-operative model.  This equalises access to information on finances, performance statistics, quality standards, development priorities etc. and also provides service users with a social network based on reciprocity which enhances their social capital and sense of well-being.

3.  John argued that whilst state or public services may provide a good standard of care it is difficult for such services to be tailored to the specific needs of individual users and that co-operative structures are much more adaptable and can respond more quickly to changed circumstances and to innovative ways of providing support.

Where service providers are also co-op members it is easier to ensure more appropriate induction and on-going staff training and to raise the employment status of the staff.

4.  Co-operatives can take a number of forms:  customer or user co-operatives,

 producer or worker co-operatives or a combination of the two.  A further, multi-stakeholder, model has been developed which provides for membership by community-based supporters (individual or institutional) and this may well be the model best suited to the provision of social support services with an eye to serving wider community needs and interests - both current and future – and to ensure optimum co-operation with Local Authorities.

5.  John referred to the situation in Bologna, where 87% of social care is provided by co-operatives under contract to the municipal authority.  He said they had access to a number of additional income streams – eg by charging those members who could afford to pay for some of the services provided, by selling services to other groups or individuals and by attracting investment, particularly from relatives of user members.

Individual co-ops had to bid for municipal contracts and are supported by co-op consortia that negotiate with the municipal authorities on matters such as uniform assessment criteria, quality standards and evaluation, procurement procedures etc.

6.  It was noted that the Government proposed to consult further on its proposals to promote social enterprises.  John pointed out that all co-operatives fell within this classification but that not all social enterprises – even though being not-for-profit organisations - are necessarily co-operatives.  With regard to the provision of social care, he argued that the Government should indicate a strong preference for the co-operative (especially the multi-stakeholder) model as being the best suited to realising the vision expressed in the forthcoming Bill.

7.  John expressed reservations about the possibility of producing the culture change that was required in the delivery of social services on a cost neutral basis and emphasised that the process would have to be relatively slow and incremental.  He was currently leading a group in Canada looking at the possibility of introducing a franchising system that would set standards agreed with the Government and then let franchises to local co-operative groups that could deliver the services required.

8.  John also referred to the Annual Social Co-operatives Summer School which he had helped establish in Bologna some years ago.  Groups from different countries were encouraged to meet for some days to discuss their own situation before attending the Bologna Summer School for international interaction.  He intended reviving this venture for 2013 and said he would be happy to help facilitate representation from Wales.  (Could this prove very useful in progressing this kind of development in Wales?)

9.  It was noted that the Welsh Government did not have complete freedom of action in this field, particularly as Wales is tied to the welfare system determined by the UK Government.  The Welsh Government intended however to introduce legislation to protect vulnerable adults.  The possibility of utilising the Direct Payments scheme to promote social co-operatives was also mentioned as a means of breaking down the isolation of individual service users and providing them with the social network and support which would enable them to reap maximum benefit from the system.

10.  John Restakis made some additional points to those made in the previous meeting, in particular:

A. In Italy, for social co-ops the Government meets the overhead employment costs of marginalized people (poorly educated, ex psychiatric patients, drug addicts etc) which greatly enhances their employability

B. One can expect to meet resistance to change from those embedded in current institutions

C. The co-operative model is not an immediate panacea, but will take 15-20 years commitment to achieve a really significant impact.

D. Quality of services depends on the quality of the relationship between service provider and service user.  This should be based on reciprocity (mutual benefit – but not only on a one-to-one basis) and democratic control.

E. Government bodies usually prefer to let a small number rather than a multiplicity of contracts.  In Bologna, in order to maintain local democratic control, local co-ops have formed consortia which can compete for local authority contracts but then sub-let parts of the contract to locally based co-ops.

F. In Italy and Canada some social care co-ops have been formed by existing agencies transforming themselves into co-ops or forming co-ops with other existing agencies. In some instances, new groups of service providers and service users come together to form new co-ops.

G. Direct payments made to individuals can isolate them unless peer support and assistance with overhead administration tasks is available.  Co-ops are best placed to provide this supportive social network.

H. Various surveys have shown that service users within co-operative models experience higher levels of satisfaction than those in other environments:  their overall sense of well-being is increased and their need to be referred for more intensive forms of care is minimised.  Service providers report higher levels of job-satisfaction than workers in either the public or private sectors – even where wages are somewhat lower – due to their ability to influence the work environment, to relate better to service users and because of their input to education and training.


David Smith, on behalf of Wales Progressive Co-operators.




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