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400-strong Social Economy Alliance launches UK election manifesto, urging politicians to get behind Britain’s growing social economy

Press Release   •   Sep 08, 2014 10:17 BST

  • Manifesto asks parties to support social economy alternatives - community energy schemes, social enterprises and co-operative housing
  • The Wales Co-operative Centre is a founding partner of the Social Economy Alliance. It has contributed to the development of the manifesto based on its extensive experience in developing co-operatives, social enterprises and community share issues.
  • The Centre is also leading a Welsh Government pilot programme to develop co-operative housing in Wales.

A new social enterprise manifesto will be launched today (Monday 8th September), as MPs return to parliament and gear up for their party conferences.

The Social Economy Alliance is calling for politicians to ditch traditional left-right notions of business against society or markets against the state and concentrate on supporting the growing social economy from its grass roots upwards.

According to the Alliance, 20th Century economic thinking in Britain has left business and society pitted against each other. Meanwhile, citizens and communities are getting on with creating solutions to tackle their social and economic problems together. Across the UK, more people than ever before are starting up social enterprises and buying from co-operatives. Social enterprises now have three times the start-up rate of traditional businesses, and account for 15% of all SMEs. The number of co-operatives has increased by more than a quarter since 2009 with a combined turnover of £37 billion last year. Almost half of all registered charities in the UK now consider themselves to be social enterprises – trading for good causes. Social investment is a growing global phenomenon, with the UK as the clear leader, with a market that is growing exponentially.

The election manifesto

The manifesto carries 25 recommendations to build a pro-social economy in the UK. Many of these recommendations can be implemented by devolved legislatures such as the Senedd.

The recommendations include:

1. Enhanced community ownership of infrastructure and utilities. New and existing infrastructure and utilities should be opened up to community ownership, giving local communities the chance to own a stake in, for example, renewable energy projects. In Wales, Dŵr Cymru operates a social ownership model that allows it to invest heavily in infrastructure projects rather than pay dividends to shareholders. This could be considered as a potential extension to the recent recommendations made by the Welsh Co-operatives and Mutuals Commission that communities should have the right to list their community assets and have first right of refusal to bring those assets into community ownership.

2. Financial inclusion — unmet demand for finance among individuals and organisations that do not qualify for traditional bank funding has reached more than £6 billion in Britain. The next UK government should commit to every community having a local model of integrated community saving and lending. The Welsh Government has provided extensive support to the network of Credit Unions in Wales and should continue to develop and support this co-operative model of community finance.

3. Local by default — budgets and decision-making powers should be handed to the most local level appropriate, and be designed around the needs of service users. This is in contrast to the failure of upscaling and standardising public services, using multi-million pound contracts which waste public money and deliver poorer outcomes.

4. New EU rules enable public bodies to reserve agreed health, social and cultural service contracts to social enterprises for a time-limited period. They should be enacted in the UK. They would mean only social enterprises that have a public service mission, reinvest profits in pursuit of that mission, and are either employee, user or stakeholder owned or managed, can be awarded certain contracts.

Derek Walker is Chief Executive of the Wales Co-operative Centre, a founder member of the Social Economy Alliance.

He said,

“In Wales, there is cross-party support for nurturing and growing the social economy. But there are always opportunities to do more to help new and nascent social enterprises.

“Great ideas often emerge during hard economic times and this has happened in the UK lately. Social enterprises and co-ops are out-performing traditional for-private-profit businesses for growth and optimism. Our political leaders must continue to support the social economy alternatives that people are creating for themselves, like community energy schemes, social enterprise nurseries and co-operative housing.

“Our message to the parties ahead of the election is that they must avoid deadlock by using the best ideas – often a smart combination of ‘left and right’. Business can be a vehicle for social change, and markets can be used for society’s benefit. Our political leaders need to keep supporting the sort of economy that voters are already building.”

Wales Co-operative Centre

The Wales Co-operative Centre was set up thirty years ago and ever since has been helping businesses grow, people to find work and communities to tackle the issues that matter to them. Its advisors work co-operatively across Wales, providing expert, flexible and reliable support to develop sustainable businesses and strong, inclusive communities.

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