Wales Co-operative Centre Chief Executive Derek Walker looks at the report of the Wales Co-operative and Mutuals Commission which is published today.
The Wales Co-operative and Mutuals Commissions report provides Wales with an opportunity to incorporate co-operation into nearly everything we do in our country. It’s an opportunity we should grasp with both hands.
The report is a detailed and insightful dissection of the co-operative sector in Wales. It offers many interesting and innovative recommendations which, if fully implemented, could see Wales become the focus of co-operation in Britain.
At the Wales Co-operative Centre, we think this report is a big deal.
The Wales Co-operative Centre has supported the development of worker co-operatives and employee owned businesses for many years. From working with the miners in their efforts to purchase Tower Colliery, to advising firms like Primepac and more recently Accommodation Furniture Solutions, we have helped employees sustain their own futures through the co-operative and democratic ownership of their businesses.
The report asks all stakeholders to revise the way in which we think about business development and business growth. It questions current approaches to procurement and tendering. It raises questions on education approaches and it asks us to consider ownership of those assets in our communities which help to forge our identity. Co-operation has often been stimulated by need in Wales, and to a certain degree that is still the case.
In this report, the requirement for co-operative development and growth is borne out of a strong business case. The report suggests there is a real need for a concerted effort to build a co-operative, cohesive, sustainable business community that develops jobs locally and stimulates local economic development and home-grown business growth. Socially owned enterprises such as co-operatives are more resilient than other business forms with more than 90% of co-operatives surviving their first three years compared to 65% of conventional businesses. According to CASS business schools research, average sales growth of employee owned businesses during the recession was far higher than comparable non-employee owned businesses at the time.
The Commission recognises that co-operatives can be springboards for growth. It calls for specialist business support and advice for people looking to form co-operatives and employee owned businesses. It calls on existing co-operatives to support and mentor new co-operative enterprises and to work with them to build supply relationships. The report also recognises the need for specialised investment finance for developing co-operatives and employee owned businesses. It offers a detailed analysis of the many business sectors where co-operative and mutual models can work including housing, energy, shops and pubs, finance, transport and delivering public services.
We warmly welcome the Commission’s findings on investment finance. The Centre agrees with the recommendation that specialist business support for developing co-operatives and employee owned businesses is essential. The Commission argues that there is a need to establish specific funding for these types of businesses. We welcome the acknowledgement of the need for specialised and targeted availability of grants and loans for co-operative and employee owned businesses and we would echo the call for that funding to be made available. The Commission also recommends more flexibility in public procurement and for co-operative procurement to be ‘mainstreamed’ through Welsh procurement practice.
These recommendations address major barriers to the development of worker co-ops, employee owned businesses and co-operative consortia in Wales and they will have an important impact on jobs and growth. But, it is also essential to ensure that these developments are protected by an ongoing educational focus that ensures that future generations understand the benefits of working together. And to me this is all tied together by the first set of recommendations in the report. The Commissioners recommend that the values, principles and skills of co-operation are embedded within our education system. This inventive recommendation will ensure that future generations that progress through the Welsh education system see co-operation and co-operatives as a solid means of building enterprise and as an attractive, sustainable career choice. The Wales Co-operative Centre welcomes the publication of the report. It makes some bold and ambitious recommendations which, if implemented, could accelerate growth in an already dynamic and innovative sector.