New Co-ops Report for Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales, recently commissioned me through their Senedd research budget to produce a Report on how to increase the co-operatisation of the Welsh Economy.

In it I have made a series of recommendations for actions that fall within the limited powers of the Welsh Government. Hopefully at least some of these will form or influence Plaid Cymru’s future policy position.

You can read the Report here:-
The co-operative economy in Wales


Co-ops and Nationalised Electricity

This article was first published in the January 2023 edition of Co-op News

Sadly, I wasn’t able to get to Co-operative Ways Forward, but I was impressed by the report of Chris Saltmarsh (co-founder of Labour for a Green New Deal) telling everyone that co-ops have no place in the production of electricity, which must be nationalised.

As an ex-power station manager from when electricity was nationalised, I have to say his views on nationalisation are based on an inaccurate pre-conception. Whilst most of the nationalised industries, such as the National Coal Board, British Steel, British Gas, and British Leyland were very centralised and top down, the nationalised electricity industry was anything but, and its structure could easily be amended to incorporate co-operatives.

Before WW2 electricity was partly in private hands, but much was also in local authority ownership, and so most power stations were small and local. Nationalisation in 1946/47 brought them all together, and enabled the construction of the National Grid, a network of very high voltage lines which could transmit power around the country. This enabled economies of scale and improved security of supply, which was always paramount, and the system was designed to be able to withstand acts of god, terrorism, and war.

Lord Citrine in 1939 (Wikipedia)

The business model was designed by Lord Walter Citrine who had started out as an electrician, rose through the union movement to be Gen Secretary of the TUC from 1926 to 1946, and became the first Chair of the Central Electricity Board in 1947. He is better known for his guide to chairing meetings, but the business model for electricity was really his finest work. There were different models in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but across England and Wales he went for a multi-level structure. Sales to the public were through 7 Area Boards, who bought electricity from the CEB to sell on to the public, operated the distribution system, and ran a network of shops selling appliances, giving advice, and providing a house wiring service.

All the power stations and the National Grid were owned and developed centrally, but each power station was locally managed and operated as a cost centre within the main accounts. They had no base income and were only paid for the electricity they generated. Each had an Efficiency Dept. which aimed to minimise operating costs, but also had to calculate the cost of generation, updated each week, which determined where they would sit in the Running Order. The Grid Control Centre aimed to operate at the lowest possible cost whilst maintaining security of supply, and so called on the cheapest generators at the top of the Running Order first. This acted as an internal market and determined how much electricity each generator would be asked to provide.

Everyone knew if they didn’t operate efficiently, they would fall down the list, and less generation would lead to more wasted energy and a bigger burden of overhead costs. It was a slope that could only lead to eventual closure and redundancy if costs were allowed to rise, and the result was that every power station developed a powerful sense of identity and team spirit.

A recreation of this structure, with co-operatives running the power stations, and the National Grid in state ownership would give the central direction and long-term strategy we so desperately need alongside worker ownership. Additionally, the Area Boards, which had a monopoly of supply, could be recreated as multi-stakeholder or consumer co-operatives on the US model. Together, this would give all the advantages of state ownership without the crippling cost to the state of purchasing all the assets, and the co-operatives could raise the necessary funds through the sale of bonds and/or shares to the public and the money markets.

This approach worked well for the non-profit mutual that owns Welsh Water, which, like the electricity industry has a valuable asset base, on the back of which it was able to raise £1.9 billion in bonds from the markets in 2001. Electricity co-ops should be able to raise large amounts with relative ease, particularly if the issue was co-ordinated and supported by Government.

Keynote at Smart

On June 21st I was invited to give a keynote address to the AGM of Smart, the Belgium based co-operative that provides services to the self employed. Smart now operates across 8 EU countries, and the AGM had representatives from all of them.

I spoke on the subject of Democracy, a wide ranging subject on which I gave my own personal views. Watch the video here:-


Cardiff People’s Paper

As part of my residency at Made in Roath, I’m working with Cat Lewis who is producing a new edition of the Cardiff People’s Paper the old fashioned way, pasting it up with Cow Gum, Letraset and tying it out on an electric typewriter.

It will feature current issues around Planning and redevelopment, including the controversial plan to relocate the Velindre cancer centre to a new site on the Northern Meadows

I’ve contacted other members of the original People’s Paper collective, Bob Dumbleton, Steve Gough, Jane Hutt and my partner Lynne Lewis, who are all inspired to see the old paper being reborn, although they may or may not all agree with all its content!

Made in Roath

From now until March 5th, I’ve a residency at Made in Roath, at 1a Inverness Place, Roath, Cardiff

It’s a joint residency with Cat Lewis whose contribution will focus on the Northern Meadows campaign

My contribution will feature the Hook Road and Cardiff People’s Paper’s contribution to the campaign to stop Motorway Madness.

To see the full Hook Road Exhibition click here

Banc Cambria

I spent the day (9th Oct) at the Access to Cash roundtable run by the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR), chaired by Chris Hemsley, their MD

Fascinating stuff:-

  • The PSR has a Joint Authorities Access to Cash Group (JAACS Group) which meets regularly and will finally report in autumn 2010 – apparently lots happening in Govt slowing them down!
  • The Post Office have re-contracted with banks to provide a payments in/out service, and 28 have signed up, but not Barclays, so their customers won’t be able to use the service after Jan 2020. The new contracts are more expensive, and the PO say they’ll be passing more on to Postmasters/Mistresses.
  • The Post Office pays out £1billion in benefits to the unbanked each bank via their card account system
  • The Post Office has had an 8% increase in cash withdrawals over the last year, and a 40% increase in cash paid in, mostly from small retail businesses
  • 10 years ago the Post Office handled cash flowing from the Bank of England out to its customers. Now the flow is reversed, as it takes in more cash, and the net transfer is back to the BoE
  • John Howells, CEO, says Link has given a policy promise to Govt that 95% of the population will have an ATM within 1 mile of their home, and that any high street with more than 5 shops will have either an ATM or a Post Office within 1 kilometre
  • Link say cash withdrawals from ATMs are dropping 10% each year
  • Of the 11,500 Post Offices in the UK, only 4,000 are open on Sundays, so no cash available from the other 7,500
  • Battle (of Hastings) has 6 ATMs, all indoors, and not available on Sundays, tourists can’t get any cash, so they spend less
  • The Shetlands have 30,000 people, but the only free to use ATM is in Lerwick
  • Some of the smaller “challenger banks” charge for ATM withdrawals even from “free” ATMs. Two million accounts operate this way
  • “Cash-back” is only available on a card if you also purchase something, so a problem for the less well-off
  • PSR state 60% of transactions were cash 10 years ago, now 30%. Not clear if this number of transactions or amount of money
  • PSR adamant consumers should have choice of using cash, but accepting cash is not a legal requirement. I suspect they would like this to be a requirement, but they didn’t actually say that
  • Which? research to be published soon, shows 19% of people feel they need access to cash all the time, and a further 19% need it from time to time
  • 18-24 year-olds prefer cash as a means to help them budget more easily

Banc Cambria

The Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee met today, October 3rd and interviewed the Chair and officers from the Development Bank of Wales.

See what they said about Banc Cambria


Community Wealth Building – French style

In the small working class market town of Questembert in southern Britanny, the local school is getting a 4,000 sq ft extension containing new laboratories and a covered courtyard.

The official Planning Permission notice required by French law

In most parts of the UK, a contract like this would have been given to a large construction company, almost certainly out of the area because no local firm could cope. However, that is not the way here, or indeed in most of France. Failure to get contracts placed locally would be end for the  local mayor at the next election. Indeed if the school bread contract doesn’t go to the local baker, that would probably be enough to finish their political career, never mind a contract like this which, based on standard prices, must be around €4million. Continue reading

A new Co-operative Development Programme

As part of the policy review being undertaken jointly by the Co-op Party and the Labour Party to look at how to double the number of co-ops in the first term of an incoming Labour Government I’ve put together some notes on how it was in the 70s and 80s, when we had a network of up to 140 local Co-operative Development Associations and a national Co-operative Development Agency as part of Government.

Downloadable here: The national CDA

This policy review started with the nef report, Co-operatives Unleashed and has now produced an internal discussion paper for the Shadow Chancellor.

As part of the Implementation Group I’ve been at the heart of the debate, which is now continuing outside this group on Platform 6 and on Loomio at Proposal for a National Co-operative Development programme