Gloucester MP Richard Graham gave a glowing endorsement of co-operatives during a Cooperative Futures event to promote and celebrate Co-operatives Fortnight last week.
The Conservative MP said he was “a huge fan of the co-operative movement,” noting that the business model had “a massive amount to offer” to society.
Mr Graham made his comments at a celebratory lunch party for co-operativesand community groups thrown byCo-operative Futures on Friday, July 1st to celebrate Cooperatives Fortnight.
“The theme of this year’s event is Yours to Share,” said Jo White, executive director of Cooperatives Futures, “so we decided to share lunch with the other organisations who share City Works.
The MP talked of his own ‘journey’ through the world ofco-operatives which started 25 years ago when, whilst working for the British Government, he helped to fund small cooperative enterprises in East Africa.
Later, he was working for the Barings Asset Management, which was sunk in 1995 by rogue trader Nick Leeson.
The family-owned bank was then bought by a Dutch company listed on the stock market, which the MP described as an “uncomfortable experience”.
Barings was then sold to an American cooperative financier, and so run – he said – “with a more caring approach”.
The current financial crisis, said Mr Graham, had led to a “dislocation” between the general public and some shareholder-owned companies, including banks and utility companies.
“When Gloucester people write letters to me about the banks, I tell them to join a cooperative that will make a difference in their community – Gloucestershire Credit Union,” he said.
Mr Graham was also keen to highlight the discussions between Co-operatives UK – the national trade association for the UK’s 6,000 co-operative businesses – and the government, which may very well lead to a co-operative future for the Post Office.
The variety of co-operatives in Gloucestershire was celebrated at the lunch. Guests heard from Josie Mottershead of the Midcounties Co-operative, which runs food outlets, post offices, travel agents, pharmacies, funeral directors and child care facilities over 700 sites and has just launched 2 new national businesses, Cooperative Energy and Co-operative Childcare.
Co-operative Energy is a new energy supplier owned by its customers – rather than speculative profit-seeking shareholders – which promises fair and transparent tariffs and a commitment to environmentally-friendly energy production.
“Whatever the business”, she said, “co-operatives are different because they exist to benefit their members who are often their customers, the people who work there, or both.”
“The common rule of one member, one vote prevents large speculative shareholders from taking a controlling interest in the businesses, while Co-operatives’ ethical code pushes Fairtrade, organic and locally-produced goods to the top of the business agenda instead.”
The meeting heard from several co-operatives that Co-operative Futures had helped to set up.
Dave Stork spoke on behalf of the Service User Support Team (SUST), which recently set up as a workers’co-operative.
SUST helps many of Gloucester and Cheltenham’s 1,800 heroin and crack users to design their own treatment plans through medication, detox or rehabilitation, which helps users to beat their addictions and rejoin society.
Kevin Frea of the Solar Co-op talked about the plans to create a solar power plant on the roof of City Works – where Co-operative Futures and many other community enterprises are based.
“Not only will the panels create energy for the building’s users,” he said, “but members of the public will be able to invest in the project and may benefit from the profits generated through investing in Community Shares.”
Amanda Godber, from Stroud-based Down to Earth talked about her co-operative, which plants and maintains organic vegetable patches in the gardens of homeowners who like the idea of home-grown organic veg, but don’t have the time or skills to do the work themselves.
Recently, she said, two new schemes had sprouted from the original idea.
Growing Communities is a Stroud Strategic Partnership-backed project which trains individuals in organic vegetable growing.
And the Fruit and Nut Tree Guardianship Scheme, supported by the Cotswold Conservation Board, offers free or subsidised tree surgery or maintenance to owners in return for a share of the crop, which is then turned into produce for sale to the public.
Jim Pettipher, deputy director of Co-operative Futures, said the co-operative model was highly adaptable and suitable to a wide range of businesses and community groups.
“When people come to me and ask ‘can I set that up as a co-operative?’ the answer is usually yes!
“People are often amazed at how flexible the co-operative business model is. Co-operatives in the UK span a movement from The Co-operative with its £14 billion annual turnover and 6,000,000 members to Marlborough News Online, which is a worker co-op with four staff.
“If you like the idea of a fair share for what you put in and you have a business idea, then just maybe you could be our next co-operative. Give us a ring!”
For more information about starting or growing a co-operative or community-owned enterprise, see www.futures.coop or call 01452 543030.