First Minister places co-operatives and co-operation at the heart of Welsh Government
Speaking at the recent centenary conference of the Co-operative Party, Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones set out how Welsh Government has supported co-operation and co-operatives to date and its plans to support the sector over the term of this Assembly. He put co-operation firmly at the centre of Welsh Government’s thinking, stating:
Achieving fair shares for all requires a co-ordinated response across government. It requires those values of co-operative action to be built in from the start in every policy we develop as a government. It requires fairness to be the organising principle around which every practical policy is developed.
The First Minister also highlighted the contribution of co-operatives to the Welsh economy and existing Welsh Government support. He praised the contribution of the sector, as social businesses are worth over £2.3bn to the Welsh economy, supporting over 40,000 jobs and volunteering opportunities for even more. Welsh Government’s existing support to help the sector grow and develop was demonstrated through the Social Business Wales programme. Delivered as a partnership with the Wales Co-operative Centre and Business Wales, the programme delivers tailored advice to new cooperatives and social enterprises, from funding support to procurement; succession planning to tendering.
Setting the scene of challenging economic times and uncertainties around Brexit, the First Minister said that supporting co-operative social businesses across Wales through these challenges is a major focus of Welsh Government’s work. Part of this work includes launching the Development Bank for Wales, Better Jobs Closer to Home and supporting intelligent commissioning and progressive procurement to strengthen supply chains and ensure more economic value stays in the local communities. But he also outlined how co-operatives can help to address the challenges and opportunities facing Wales.
With the current Wales and Borders Franchise ending and new plans for the Metro, there is a once in a generation opportunity to build a world class transport system that can support the transformation of Wales’ economy and communities. Welsh Government is developing a new model for the Wales and Borders rail network that prioritises service over profit. Transport for Wales has been created as a not for profit company that will design and let the next franchise and Metro. It will only let those contracts that it is required to do so on a commercial basis. Where they do, the profits from those services will be at a capped margin with the excess reinvested back into the wider transport system.
To meet the increasing demand for affordable homes, Welsh Government is building the capacity of the co-operative housing sector and has provided nearly £2m of capital funding to support co-operative housing in Wales. The First Minister praised the work of the Wales Co-operative Centre in enabling three pilot projects in Cardiff, Newport and Carmarthenshire to develop new co-operative models of social rent, intermediate rent and shared ownership. Earlier this year, Welsh Government awarded a further £150,000 to provide advice to co-operative housing schemes from the Wales Co-operative Centre.
With pressures on social care increasing, there is an urgent need to see new innovation and new, more sustainable models of care be developed that can meet those pressures head on. The Welsh Government has recognised the potential for co-operative approaches to help address this challenge through the Social Services and Well-being Act. The Act places a duty on local authorities to promote the development of not for profit organisations to provide care, support carers, and to encourage preventative services. Those principles of co-production are set out in the Code of Practice. Co-operative arrangements for encouraging new models of care to develop are set out on the face of the Act.
The First Minister said that from supporting new models of childcare to promoting co-operative ideas in the classroom, there is a huge opportunity for the Co-operative Party and its members to work with Welsh Government over the next few years to develop new and innovative service models that can answer the great challenges of our age. And in doing so there is a key opportunity to hold Wales up as a beacon of good practice across the UK and across the world.