Social businesses key to Valleys prosperity plan

 

For the past year, the Welsh Government’s Taskforce for the Valleys explored options for improving prosperity in the South Wales Valleys. The Taskforce has now published its priorities and plan for the Valleys. It was launched at the Fern Partnership, a social enterprise in the Rhondda. What role can social businesses play in achieving the aims of the plan?

The action plan focuses on three themes: good-quality jobs, better public services, and the local community and environment.

It aims to create good quality job opportunities partly by maximising job opportunities in the local, foundational economy. The foundational economy provides essential goods and services for everyday life. This includes infrastructures; utilities; food processing, retailing and distribution; and health, education and welfare. At the Wales Co-operative Centre, we believe that social businesses can be at the centre of strong local economies, playing a key role in creating more balanced economies. Our research demonstrated a strong overlap between the foundational economy and the social economy in Wales as so many social enterprises and co-operatives work in the foundational economy services sector. They are particularly well suited to creating inclusive local economies. Social businesses seek to create social and environmental value alongside economic value. They are ways of doing business that deliver sustainable economic growth while fostering positive social change and innovation. Social businesses are anchored in their communities; investment in them stays in the community and is recycled for wider economic and social benefits.

The plan also sets out work to increase skills and employability in the Valleys and provide training for the long term unemployed. Co-operatives and social enterprises play a key role in creating jobs for, and developing the skills of, people who are outside the labour market. There are social businesses already doing this in the Valleys. Greenstream Flooring is based in Porth. Greenstream aims to maximise community benefit from the reuse and sales of flooring in the UK. While addressing environmental issues through reducing landfill waste and recycling floor tiles, it also supports disadvantaged individuals back into work. It further addresses community need through its affordable flooring scheme which provides low income housing with carpet they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.

Also set out are plans to develop locally-owned community energy schemes in the Valleys. Community co-operatives increase buy-in for the renewable energy project as the community has a stake and voice in how the project is run while the sale of electricity can fund local projects. Co-operatives such as Awel Aman Tawe and Gower Power are already running innovative renewable energy projects. Much can be learned from their journeys and experience to inform the development of similar projects in the Valleys.

A vision for the future of public services is also set out in the plan. Key to this vision is the idea that public services will be working with the third sector and local communities to respond to people’s needs. This will include using community hubs to work together with the third sector to provide services for local communities.

Social businesses have a key role in to play in helping to achieve the vision for the Valleys set out in the action plan. The Wales Co-operative Centre is approaching officials to explore how social businesses can play a role in delivering the plan.

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