13 December 2011

The Baker Boys: A Welsh Drama with UK-wide implications

A guest blog by the Wales Co-operative Centre: As the second series of Baker Boys draws to a close on BBC Wales it seems like a good time to reflect on the need to consider employee ownership and worker co-operatives as tools to help address some of the economic issues that so many of us are facing on a day to day basis.

But, first a quick recap.

For those of you unlucky enough to not live in Wales, Baker Boys is a fictionalised account of the creation of a worker co-operative in a South Wales Valleys town.

The original series followed the trials and tribulations of the bakery staff as they formed a buy-out team and raised the finances to take over the company. The series examined the issues a real buy out team would face – distrust, initial reluctance, the fear of investing redundancy payments and the effects the process can have on relationships with family and friends.

This second series has addressed issues that encompass not just the trials and tribulations of making a worker co-operative work but the real effects that the economic downturn has on businesses, communities and families.

The drama offers a warts ‘n’ all insight into the benefits and hardships that a worker buy out or worker co-operative offers. All is not looking good for the bakery. The business is struggling, their key investor has disappeared, there is dissention in the ranks, cash flow issues and the ongoing search for new business.

But it was never going to be an easy ride.

This is often the reality of a new business. Whether the business is created by a single investor, a partnership or is owned by its employees there will always be business challenges to live up to. The hard work, sweat and sometimes, tears are the building blocks of future success and this is the reason that both business owners and employee groups should consider employee ownership options and opportunities for the future of their companies.
If you didn’t get a chance to see Baker Boys, the good news is you can still catch the second series on BBC iPlayer here. The Wales Co-operative Centre has been blogging about worker co-operatives throughout the series – read more here

Wouldn’t it be great if the BBC showed it across the UK at some point next year in support of the International Year of the Co-operatives?

Business Succession in Wales

In Wales we are dependent on our SME sector. The sector accounts for more than half of total employment in the Welsh economy. However, in 2010 Wales lost over 11,000 businesses with only 8,000 new businesses being created– a net loss of 3000 businesses. In the UK overall there was a fall of 42,000 businesses between 2009 and 2010. For the second consecutive year business deaths have outnumbered business births. (Office for National Statistics).

Federation of Small Business research shows that the average business owner in Wales stays with his or her business significantly longer than in the UK as a whole. Over 1 in 5 business owners have been involved with their businesses for 21 years or more.
These figures have obvious implications for the future of the SME sector in Wales and throughout the UK.
Business owners expecting a trade sale to materialise out of nowhere to fulfil their retirement plans may be in for a nasty surprise in the current climate.
How worker co-ops can be part of the solution

Worker co-operatives engender a sense of ownership and commitment that a normal enterprise can’t. Workers who have a stake in their business want it to succeed and will endeavour to make it do so. Worker co-operatives and employee owned enterprises have a proven record of stability and growth in comparison to their privately owned equivalents.

Think about it. If everyone had a share in the business, wouldn’t everyone want it to achieve more? More turnover, more sales – more profit?
The approach makes good business sense as well.
The decision to set up a worker co-operative is a big one which will affect each employees work life, family life and potentially their financial stability. However, if the business succeeds the benefits would include long-term job security, financial security as well as ownership and control of the future of the business. It is essential that every employee is aware of this and is given the correct information to make their own decision. 
The potential benefits of forming a workers co-operative could be enormous:
·         Ownership of the business and a share in future profits
·         A say in the future of the business
·         The chance of long term security
·         The chance of long term financial benefit            
When Budelpack International, a Dutch owned packaging company, closed down their operation in the South Wales Valleys, 19 staff members decided to invest their redundancy payment into setting up a new employee owned company. With manufacturing jobs on the decline in Wales the staff were keen to preserve their livelihoods and keep jobs in the local area. The Wales Co-operative Centre provided legal and business planning advice and helped the company access funding. The new company, PrimePac Solutions Ltd, makes bottles, sachets and tubes with clients including leading brands in the health and personal care sector. The company’s new production facilities in Ebbw Vale were opened at the end of 2005. 
“Establishing our business co-operatively means that all employees feel that they can become masters of their own destiny and develop our company into a real success story for South Wales”, says Steve Meredith, Managing Director of PrimePac Solutions Ltd
As with any business communication and a widespread understanding of the aims and objectives of the business are paramount. But, in an employee buyout situation it is essential that everyone involved, including family members, are aware of the level of risk involved. In the case of PrimePac solutions the risk paid off and the company is now worth several times the investment paid into setting it up.
We’ll have to wait until series 3 to find out how it turns out for the Baker Boys.
Some simple steps to setting up a worker co-operative

1.         Communicate. Speak to your colleagues and consider forming a buy-out team
2.         Get help. Coops UK, Wales Co-operative Centre, Co-operative Development Scotland are there to help you. Use them.
3.         Assess the business’, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats before committing.
4.         Accept it will be a long, and at times difficult, process but that the potential rewards for you and your colleagues could be enormous.

The Wales Co-operative Centre has set up a project with Welsh Government and European Union backing to support business owners and employee groups develop employee ownership approaches. Our advisors work with both parties to ensure that the process is fair for both the owner and the employees. We offer support to employees on their journey from the initial formation of a buyer group to management support throughout the first months of the new business. Find out more at the Wales Co-operative Centre website here.
Similar opportunities exist in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
To give the story impact the scriptwriters pit the Valleys Bara employees against some big business challenges. Fiction needs drama to make it interesting. However, in real life, the Wales Co-operative Centre can be there to support employee buyout teams and worker co-operatives to minimise the drama that they face on a day to day basis.

06 December 2011

2011 Blog Round-up

It has been a while since I've had time to write a post, so here is a round up of my favourites over the last year or so.  I will be in Africa for 3 weeks and will hopefully get the chance to meet some worker co-operatives.

If you would like to write a guest blog for this blog please get in touch.

Youth is not wasted on the young - My visit to the youth wing of the co-operative movement and our hope for the future.

Governance and Management structures in worker co-operatives - A basic run through of the different governance and management structures found in worker co-operatives.

Future Co-ops feedback and does the movement need - My feedback from Future Co-operatives 2011 co-operative development event.   

Will public sector workers fit in the co-operative Guest blog, by ChangeAGEnts discussing the different cultures within worker co-operatives and public services, as ex-public sector workers, here are their views.

From conflict to co-operation - Dealing with conflict within a worker co-operative.

Can we really create a co-operative economy? - How can the co-operative model be used for driving up performance, lowering costs, but at the same time keeping these new businesses accountable and lets be honest ethical.

What is an employee owned co-operative? - Splitting hairs or valid question?

What's a social co-operative, can it help create a - Look at co-operative delivering public services in Italy and is this a model for the UK.

08 August 2011

Youth is not wasted on the young

On Saturday I went to the open day of #cocamp the 3 yearly international camp for the Woodcraft Folk and their associated international movements. So who are they and why as a member of a co-operative should you be interested?<--break->

Who are they?
The Woodcraft Folk, although a fully autonomous and independent organisation, is closely aligned with (and gets funding from) the co-operative movement basically the youth wing. I think they merged with the official youth wing back in the 40's. For those interested there is a whole raft of heritage and historical documents here.

So they are a youth organisation like Scouts but without the woggles and all that stuff about God and the Queen.  They are democratically run by their members (anyone involved over 16), where children and young adults are taught about values such as self-help, co-operation and all those other words we love.

Why should you be interested?
This is the place we will get the next generation of co-operators from, they will want to work in worker co-ops, start-up the next Suma's, phone co-op's or (by the looks of the adverts/films on this site.) media co-ops. They will think of ways of democratically organising, using social networks and other technology we can't even imagine.  The kids and young adults I spoke to were articulate, confident and instinctively  co-operated with each other.

The best example I saw was five bicycles pulling and another group pushing a "mobile DF's centre" up a hill. (If you imagine a 3x3m wooden construction on wheels, with walls, a roof  and a 3 piece suite inside you won't be far off.)

If we can get these people to move into the wider co-operative movement, help them grow and develop, the movement won't just be in safe hands they will far surpass what's been achieved in the last generation.

The actual visit

Cocamp has been running from Saturday 30th July to Tuesday 9th August 2011. In their own words from the website:

"The camp will be an opportunity for young people from across the world to learn about, and put into practice, co-operative values, with these values also embedded in the planning, organisation, and programme of the event"
Here are some photos from my visit to their open day:
This is a picture of the map, the camp is split into Villages, which are a circle of tents where people camp, cook and organise together.

Villages are grouped into Towns for larger activities, each Town had a: Town Hall, Library and Cafe. There were four towns in all and roughly 2500 people on site from places as diverse as: Austria, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Bradford (the village I ate with).

I should mention Bob Cannell of Suma looked after me for the day, for which I was very grateful.

Here is a picture of a solar and wind power station in the Scottish Woodcraft town, there town was entirely powered by renewable energy. Although I didn't spot them I noticed a Dulas (Welsh worker co-op) van in the car park, so there must have been a Welsh contingent some where as well.I saw groups from Bradford, Manchester (Chortlton), Hebdon Bridge, and loads from London.

I also bumped into the Co-operative College  who ran a workshop on co-operative trading. Children learnt about co-operatives, fair trade and globalisation through running a trading game involving: a bank, diary farm, wholesaler, retailer, cafe etc.  See the picture.

Another Co-operative College activity was called "Co-op in a box", where kids explored the co-operative values and principles and each box held items needed to produce things; from hair platting, friendship band, smoothly making and cake decorating.

The groups then decided what to do; how much to charge and then went about setting up their co-op (One kid I heard made £30). Interestingly there was some debate between the parents/leaders about what to do with the "profits" as some presumed the money should go to charity (so even the parents learnt something about true co-ops). Thankfully the kids did choose what to do with the money (it was their co-op after all).

It wasn't all co-op stuff; here are some pictures of posters put around the camp for other sessions.  All the session were voluntary and the kids could decide what to go to (and quite a lot were their idea too).

This last picture shows copies of the daily newspaper which was written and edited by the younger kids and members of the DF's who are the 16 -21 yrs group.  Each evening the paper was sent to a local newspaper printers to be printed. First edition is here.

So if you have kids and you want them to grow up confident and able to co-operate why not look into sending them to the Woodcraft Folk.

Further Reading
Woodcraft Folk
Woodcraft Heritage site
DF's Website (16 - 21's)

26 July 2011

Governance and Management structures in worker co-operatives

The other day a consumer co-operative Board member asked if I could send them some info on what worker co-operative governance and management structures look like.  I always jump at the chance to inform fellow co-operators.  The only problem was I couldn't find what I was looking for. So below is my attempt to set-out some very generalised 'types' of structure.

Most worker co-operatives evolve their own structure and practices as they grow and mature. Also theory and what I've observed won't always reflect the situation in your particular co-op. So please please set me straight and provide examples of how you structure your worker co-op.  Also if you know of good web links please share.

www.cultivate.coop does have some interesting articles and I might replicate this blog there, if people think its good enough.

First a quick look at terms:
Governance: Is about how the views/will of the members (who own the co-op) are represented. How they set their: vision, goals and strategic direction of the co-op.

Management: On the other hand is about the achieving these goals, the detail and managing resources on a day-to-day basis.

"Governance pertains to the vision of an organization, and translation of the vision into policy, management is all about making decisions for implementing the policies.".

Governing Body: Is the group of people who govern the organisation on behalf of the members.  In a Company this is the "Board of Directors".

For a lot lot more info on Legal Structures and Governance have a look at our www.uk.coop/simplyseries 

Below are the types of structure I have seen in worker co-ops in order of scale. I give a brief description followed by a diagram. In the diagrams I attempt to illustrate Governance and Management relationships.


The Collective
When people first come together informally or create a small worker co-operative.  They often start as collectives; Governance and Management can be very difficult to separate, usually all members are at the same level in terms of Governance, formally as Directors (or act as if directors) and operate using a flat management structure (everyone gets an equal say on issues).

Some people may take the 'lead' in a certain areas or activities but this may swap and change depending on the circumstance. I've tended to see this structure from 2-10 people.

As a worker co-operative grows or becomes more complex/specialised (around 8-15 people, some last even longer) it becomes more and more difficult to keep everyone informed and the level of interaction needed for decision making becomes too high (there is also the issue of newer members not being 'experianced' enough).  At this point two things happen:

Firstly; Governance moves to a system of representation where some members are elected by the membership to represent their views and these representatives are delegated to make certain decisions on their behalf.  Some co-operatives choose Directors on a completely open annual elections basis (at AGM), others staggered elections 3 one year 4 the next etc. Others have certain designated places for certain roles within the organisation (for example the Finance role).

Issues with this approach like any form of representations, can break down if: members don't feel their views are represented or there is a lack of clarity on level/type of decision that has been delegated. Co-operatives UK is currently writing a guide called "Simply Governance" so watch this space for more information.

Secondly; Management changes and this can change in variety of ways:

Self-managing work teams
Usually this means, as co-operatives grows they split into teams; based on areas of the business: Cafe/Shop, Sales/Designers/Printers, Warehouse/Drivers/Buyers etc.

These become self-managing collectives, who then nominate representatives from their own team to the Governing Body

Hierarchy system
Usually this means a general manager is chosen; sometimes elected or specifically recruited/selected by the governing body.  They are accountable to the governing body, and have been given authority to manage the organisation. In larger co-ops there may be multiple levels of management. A term used for this relationship is; "Management is not a status but a function"

Even larger structures
Suma is the largest worker co-operative in the UK with around 130 employees.  They operate on an equal pay basis and don't have a CEO or executive managers in the normal sense of the term.  They also multi-role; which means members work in a least two different "Function Areas" of the Business.

Suma is governed by periodic General Meetings for all the membership, and an elected Board of Directors. On the Management side; the business is divided into "Function Area" Such as: Buyers, Warehouse, Drivers etc.  

These like the above operate relatively autonomously with each area having a "Functional Area Co-ordinator" who are elected to co-ordinate an area and come together with other "FACs" to co-ordinate operations as a whole.

Suma is the largest using this structure, and there are a lot of interesting theories about democratic management and social relationships (how far can you go). One theory is Dunbar's number:

"A theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships...[1] This says that numbers larger than the Dunbar number generally require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar's number. It has been suggested it lies between 100 and 230, with a commonly used value of 150.[2 "

It might be no co-incidence that Suma has reached this size.  Is there a natural size for a worker co-operative? What should a worker co-operative do it if wishes to retain a democratic management structure but grow beyond 150? One suggestion is for the co-op to divide or create off-shoots, forming "Consortia" Corporate Group Structures of smaller co-operatives that share common approaches, branding and inter-trade with each other.

Some might say the Pinnacle of worker co-operative achievement is Mondragon in Spain. Governance and Management in Mondragon is very different to UK worker co-operatives; for a start it employs 85,066 people! It also has a very standard management hierarchy (although there are maximum pay ratio's and most managers are trained from within).

Mondragon is not like a traditional PLC either and operates more like an Economy in itself.  Mondragon is a type of Consortia mentioned above, where its member co-ops have their own bank, social security, education, research and development services.  All the 250+ businesses are split into Group; Divisions; Units. Each individual company is semi-autonomous and may leave the Mondragon Group (and some have).

Modragon's Governance is also on a representative system with workers voting for Board Members of their individual company, who in turn vote for the next level up

This below diagram illustrates one companies relationship to the overall structure.

Further Reading
Durbar's Number
Difference between Management and Governance

16 June 2011

Worker co-operative election results 2011

Thank you for all those members voting, we can now publish the results of the worker co-operative council elections 2011. The results are:

No of votes
Britta Werner
Unicorn Grocery
Richard Crook
Essential Trading Co-operative
Edward Russell
Co-operative Web
Athene Ellana Richford
GreenCity Wholefoods
Steven Glynn
Sustainable Change Cooperative
M J Ray
Turo Technology LLP

Voter turn-out was 21% and I would like to congratulate Britta and Ed for being re-elected and Richard and Athene who will be new members of the Council.  They will join members not up for election this year:

Alison Banton, Dulas
Bob Cannell, Suma Wholefoods
Sion Whellens, Calverts

The next council meeting will take place on Friday 25th June at Congress in Birmingham. So if you would like to talk to your new and existing representatives please come along to Congress and Co-operatives UK's AGM.

04 May 2011

Where do you get your finance from?

You may not know, but there is a specialist loan provider for worker co-operatives! This short post takes a look at Co-operative and Community Finance, and ends with a request from them to find out more about worker co-operative financial needs.

Co-operative & Community Finance has been operating for almost 40 years, and today is one of the most successful - and sustainable - CDFIs in the UK. Formally known as ICOF (Industrial Common Ownership Finance) was born out of a series of informal meetings in Northampton inspired by the principles and practice of one of the largest common ownership co-operatives in the UK - Scott Bader.

The idea was to encourage successful common ownerships to lend money to ICOF which would then be lent on to new co-operative ventures - a revolving loan fund, to which money is repaid and lent again.

Donations, deposits and loans were ICOF's source of capital as the banks would not take the risk of lending to employee owners.By the end of 1976 £60,000 had been lent to a total of 14 co-ops. It became clear in the early 1980s that there was a growing need for a new national loan fund alongside the developing local authority funds.

ICOF plc was formed in 1987 as a subsidiary of ICOF Ltd with the specific purpose of raising capital by public share issue to lend to worker co-operatives and employee buyouts. Preference shares were offered, redeemable after 10 years, and £550,000 were purchased. This was both a successful and a pioneering approach to ethical investment. It was also innovative in that it spread shareholders' money across a wide portfolio of loans to reduce risk to the investor.

In 1997 the investors had the opportunity to redeem their 10 year preference shares but most opted to transfer to the new issue launched in June. The second plc issue boosted the funds to over £1 million with many new investors attracted to ICOF.

By 2007, from the £1million raised by previous share issues, Co-operative & Community Finance had lent around £3.3 million to over 150 worker co-operatives - tripling its positive impact for enterprises and their communities.  1,500 jobs were created, sustained and supported within the co-operative sector by the Fund. A further share issue was launched in October 2007 with over £1m being raised

In 2010, Co-operative & Community Finance lent over £800,000 to co-ops from the various funds that they manage. There is a longer history here, and if you are a worker co-operative and looking for loan finance get in touch with them.

21 April 2011

Worker Co-operative Council Elections 2011

Voting is now open for the Worker Co-operative Council Elections! All worker co-operative members of Co-operatives UK were sent Ballot Papers on the 20 April 2011 and should receive this in the next week. This should include a list of nominees, biographical details and a Ballot paper.  These people will represent your views and help guide Co-operatives UK's strategy from the point of view of worker co-operatives.

The closing date for receipt of ballot papers is 27th May 2011 and the Elections result declared 3rd June 2011. The four successfull candidates will be invited to the next Worker Co-operative Council meeting taking place at Congress 2011 why not come and join them.

The nominees are:

Britta Werner - Unicorn GroceryI have been working at Unicorn Grocery, a retail workers co-operative in Manchester, for over 6 years. I am the company’s secretary and also part of the Personnel Team and currently studying for an MSc in Human Resource Management.

I became involved in the Worker Co-op Council 4 years ago and through this I am on the board of Co-operative and Community Finance.

I feel that my knowledge of HR can be helpful to the council as well as my enthusiasm for co-operatives. Unicorn Grocery is a successful co-operative and because of this, I have constant contact with different co-operatives who are getting in touch with us. Therefore I feel I have got good skills and abilities to contribute to the council.  Having served on the council for the last four years has given me a good insight into the co-operative movement from many different aspects.

Edward Russell – Co-operative Web
Hi, I'm Ed and am a geek who is part of the technology focused worker co-op "Co-operative Web" based in Birmingham.  I've been a member of the council for the past two years over which time we've grown Co-op Web quite substantially to now be 21 workers and have experienced a lot of the trials and tests that brings!  I'm also a director of Co-operative Futures and a member of Co-operatives WM. 

I've worked hard to try and bring the message of co-operation to more people through many talks and seminars including the recent series of Co-ops UK events for creative co-operatives.  I'm very passionate about spreading the message and how technology can play a part in this.

I would like to have another term on the council as I feel that I've only just started to understand how to make a difference and feel that I've a lot to contribute about small and growing worker co-ops.

Richard Crook – Essential Trading Co-operative

I have been a member of Essential Trading Co-operative for 10 years, covering a range of responsibilities on my way to my current role in our accounts team and as co-operative treasurer.  My experience of being a member of a worker co-op has convinced me that this is a truly alternative and democratic way to organise a business away from conventional hierarchical structures.  I feel that it is important for worker cooperatives to have representation within Co-operatives UK, to continue to promote the positive aspects they bring to the co-operative movement.

Essential Trading Co-operative is a Natural and Organic Food Wholesaler and Retailer - one of the largest worker co-operatives in the UK with over 80 members.  It was formed through the merger of two co-operatives; Harvest and Nova in 1991. The origins of those co-operatives can be traced back to 1971.

Steven Glynn – Sustainable Change CooperativeI am a partner at Sustainable Change Cooperative which works with organisations to develop a clearer understanding of what sustainability means for them, and take practical action based on this understanding.  See our website, www.sustainable-change.co.uk, for more details on what we do. As a newcomer to the cooperative movement – we have been a cooperative for a year – I have a lot to learn, but also believe I have a lot to offer. I see developing the cooperative movement as critical part of moving towards an economy and society that allows people and the environment to flourish. At the same time it is essential that cooperatives themselves embrace the sustainability agenda and exploring cooperatively how best to do this would be a central aim of mine if elected to the Council.

M J Ray – Turo Technology LLP
MJ is both passionate about and experienced in co-operation. 2012, the UN's year of co-ops, is a great opportunity to spread the co-operative message wider and to build support both between co-ops and with their national body.  MJ is working to equip members with the resources they want, under permissive terms of use, to facilitate their business, campaigning and outreach.  'Dog helps Dog' and 'Co-operation in the Age of Google' are helpful starting points to build upon.

MJ has worked for software.coop since it was formed 9 years ago and served on the Co-operatives SW steering group 2006-2010.  Having also experienced work in public and private sectors, MJ fully appreciates the social, democratic and ethical co-operative difference.  Your support will help MJ achieve his aims of bringing UK members together and taking the worker cooperative message to a wider audience.  Thank you.

Athene Ellana Richford – GreenCity Wholefoods
I came to GreenCity as a recent graduate having always admired and been cognisant of the co-operative movement.  I am passionate about the role that cooperatives, and especially worker coops, can play in demonstrating to our wider societies that it is possible to have truly accountable businesses which, whilst profitable do not compromise their ethics regarding workers and customers.  I strongly believe that cooperatives are representative of humanity at its best; giving workers autonomy over their means of production; providing community and a responsible way of working.  In short, I regard cooperatives as the humanisation of capitalism.  I would relish the opportunity to work with other worker coop members and broaden my knowledge of worker cooperatives and the wider movement.  I hope that such an engagement from me would foster my growth as a worker, an individual and also that of GreenCity.

28 March 2011

Co-ops involvement in the Census

I filled in our household census on Sunday; despite Lockheed Martin (a US defence company) involvement.  I nearly put co-operative as my religion, but thought that might be taking things a bit too far...

Why do I mention this? because it's a great example of how you can find co-operatives business involvement in everyday life (most of the time you don't know it).

One of Co-operatives UK's members; recycled paper suppliers PaperBack had secured their largest order in their twenty eight year history.  The workers co-op based in East London won a 700 tonne contract to supply paper for the National Census leaflet which went to every UK household this month.

For those interested in such things, the paper, Maple Gloss, is made entirely from post consumer waste, primarily recycled office paper, and took more than six weeks to deliver!

I've failed to visit PaperBack on any of my visits to London as they are always so busy (business comes first).  They are a pioneering coop set up in 1983 to help the recycling ‘loop’ by promoting greater use of recycled paper. They remain the only UK paper merchant specialising exclusively in recycled papers.

So well done Paperback and if there contiunes to be a census in 2021 lets hope you contiune to provide the recycled paper!

01 February 2011

Future Co-ops feedback and does the movement need a Pope?

This week I attended one of my favourite Co-operative events of the year organised by Co-operatives Futures.  This is an event predominately packed with co-operative activities who debate big issues of the time.  This years debate was "Big Society: Are we in or are we out.." You can read their own summary of the event here (not ready yet).

The event's main speakers were Russell Gill, Head of Membership at the Co-operative Group and Dave Boyle CEO of Supporters Direct. Who both gave balanced reasoned arguments discussing the opportunities and threats to the co-operative movements involvement and association with the Big Society. With other delegates contributions here is a summary of main points:

Should be in:
  • Every so-often co-operatives become part of the zeitgeist and we should take advantage to promote co-operatives in their current forms when this happens (every 10-20 yrs).
  • Be confident in our own language and clear about the aspects of Big Society we want to be involved in and those we should stay well clear of.
  • If we involve ourselves early and state our case confidently we can beat our competitors and the more unscrupulous private sectors businesses in the delivery of public sector contracts (that are going to happen whether we are in or out).
  • This might actually be a genuine attempt by the Conservatives to reach out to the co-operative movement and find better solutions for meeting peoples needs.
  • Co-operatives purpose is to bring people together to meet their needs and we especially thrive in recession or when people face real hardship.  With the cuts taking place that is going to be quite likely.

Should be out:

  • The "Big Society" is just a clever rephrase of its opposite "Small State" and we should be wary of being a shield for ideologically driven cuts.
  • You can not "empower communities"; power is taken it can't be given to people. the Big Society is a top down approach and like earlier top down approach (Bennite Co-ops, Bus Privatisations) is more likely to fail.
  • Co-operatives could be left with the scraps while the more profitable and easier aspects of public services are sold of to investor owned businesses.
  • Are we ready, do we have the scale and ability to successfully deliver?
I attended 2 workshops; one on the use/misuse of language, the most interesting comment was the "Big Society" is just a container word and is so tainted we should just not use it.  We (and other communities organisations) have been doing this stuff for years and should be confident in our own language; why do we need to rebrand it ours is a superbrand anyway? 

I also attended a workshop on how to engage with new forms of co-operation and the more radical things going on.  Are the student fee's protesters, #ukuncut and other responses to the Big Society "proto Co-operatives"? If so what can we learn from these new vibrant forms of collaboration and what can they learn from us (we have had years of learning by trial and error, must be something to show for it).

Unfortunately I had to leave before the end so I wasn't about for the final debate. But something tells me there was  no simple "in or out" resolution. 

Like a few other issues that raised their head throughout the weekend (are Community Benefit Societies or John Lewis Partnership co-operatives?). It would be great if the Co-operative Movement had a Pope who could decide on such matters.  But we haven't  "Co-operative" is a social construct and we re-create it with every discussion based on our underlying shared values.

My view from was and remains that the "Big Society" will will come and got like many other phrases and top-down initiatives. Who says "The Third Way" anymore?

Co-operation is an instinctive and natural behaviour for humans. Co-operatives have done their thing for 150 years and they will continue do their thing for the next. If other people want to join us on our journey for a bit that's great and we will enjoy the chit chat, but we won't be expecting them to stay on the same path forever.