Co-operators and elected representatives from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland met for the first time on Feb 5th 2016 at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh to discuss how to take forward the co-operative agenda in their regions.
The private meeting, organised jointly by the Cross Party Groups’ secretariats, myself, Erskine Holmes and James Proctor featured members of the Cross-Party Groups in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. A previous meeting held in Cardiff in 2012 had only had Members from two of the three regions able to attend.
Our host, Willie Coffey MSP (SNP) said:
“This is the first time we had members interested in the co-op movement from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales come together. It’s fascinating to hear some of the different approaches taken and it’s important that we share that.”
It’s important to challenge thinking about business, he added.
“We don’t automatically think of setting up social enterprises and co-ops, we have a challenge to explain possibilities to people.
“We could help achieve that through the government. Agencies involved in co-operation have a really strong role here as well. There is an opportunity to grow businesses using the co-op model.”
Sammy Douglas, member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, said:
“It’s good to have links with all parliaments in the UK. Sometimes we feel isolated.”
Labour/Co-op Welsh Assembly Member Mick Antoniw said:
“What you’re taking from this meeting is seeing what’s being done to develop co-ops and different types of collective ownership, whether it would be businesses or services in different parts of the UK, what Scotland is doing, what Northern Ireland is doing, and exchanging ideas.
“I’ve learnt a lot of interesting things about what’s been happening with housing, some public services and with businesses. That sharing of ideas is vital, it’s the whole purpose of coming here and meeting.”
In 2012 the Welsh Government set up a Commission to find evidence and make recommendations about growing the co-operative and mutual economy. He added:
“The cross-party group has certainly raised awareness. It has certainly contributed to pressure on the Welsh government to have the commission to explore the issue of co-op development, which has produced some very serious recommendations”.
The private meeting was followed by a public event at the Edinburgh City Council where co-operators from all three regions talked about co-operative development initiatives.
James Proctor of Co-operatives UK, who chaired the public meeting, said Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS) was working with Edinburgh and Glasgow city councils to promote the co-op model to people setting up businesses.
Talking about what he had taken away from the private meeting, Mr Coffey said:
“One of messages from Wales was to try to influence education curricula to make sure youngsters in schools are fully aware of possibility of co-op models. Going forward I would like to see materials being available to Scottish schools that introduce to every youngsters the idea of co-operation.”
Mick Antoniw thinks the Scottish experience in promoting employee ownership through CDS could be useful for Wales. He points to the way Scottish Parliament is looking at co-ops, from funding issues to inclusion of co-ops and mutuals in business development.
Erskine Holmes also pointed out that co-operatives could benefit from legislative changes to allow corporates such as Ulster Community Investment Trust to be members of credit unions. Ulster CIT can currently lend to credit unions but they cannot place money with them.
Commenting on the difficulties often found in asset transfers and externalisations where quasi mutuals and social enterprises are often favoured, co-operative development consultant Alex Bird said:
“Politicians could promote asset locks for co-operatives, which Co-operatives UK have been lobbying for for some years now. Community Benefit Societies have asset locks, which makes them more appealing when it comes to investing public money. This is disadvantaging the bona fide co-op model as a suitable vehiclel for externalisation”.
Asked how getting representatives from different regions to work together could help promote the co-operative agenda, Mr Coffey said:
“We’re all facing elections and I think everyone that has been here today is committed to taking forward the agenda into the new parliament.
“I really look forward to be able to participate in that. I think if we are going to be successful we have to influence our respective governments to take an extra step to engage with the co-op process so we can take that forward and grow the co-operative model for the future.”
Read the full article by Anca Voinea http://www.thenews.coop/102250/news/co-operatives/edinburgh-hosts-historic-cross-party-meeting-co-operatives/