Co-operative businesses to debate Big Society – In or Out?

Russell Gill, head of membership at The Co-operative Group

Russell Gill, head of membership at The Co-operative Group

Co-operative businesses need to embrace the opportunities and face the challenges presented by the Big Society, not sit on the sidelines watching as other businesses jump in and reap the rewards.

That’s the view of Russell Gill, head of membership at The Co-operative Group, who will be the headline speaker at the Future Co-operatives Conference in January.

The Big Society – are we in, or are we out? will be the question posed to members of the co-operative movement at the conference, delivered by Co-operative Futures.

Russell, one of a number of co-operative officials working with government at the highest levels to find a co-operative solution to a shrinking public sector said: “There are great co-operative and perhaps even some commercial opportunities for the co-operative movement, from schools to housing and from local government to the Post Office.

“However, there are also risks presented by being associated with the government’s desire to reduce the size of the state and implement deep cuts in spending. People in government and the media are talking about ‘co-operatives’ in a way that might damage our brand.

“We’ve invested a huge amount of time and money in modernizing people’s view of what ‘co-operative’ is, and what our values and principles are, and we don’t want the Big Society agenda to jeopardize this.”

Russell added: “Over the coming months, the movement will have to demonstrate whether it’s in or out. There will always be purists who wish the world wasn’t changing and don’t want to engage with a government associated with cuts to jobs and public services, but I think there are other more pragmatic co-operators who will see that competitors delivering a quasi–co-operative solution is a far greater risk.”

Jim Pettipher, a director of Co-operative Futures and organiser of the conference, said: “We want delegates to consider both the opportunities and the threats that the Big Society may offer, and then to act and make the best of the government’s Big Society agenda for the benefit of the co-operative movement.

“The event will include workshops to allow delegates to identify and to explore the issues, followed by our traditional Big Debate to close the conference, with a call to arms. I want people to go back to their desks on Monday morning fuelled by the desire to do something to make the Big Society like the existing 6 million members strong Biggest Society – the Co-operative – genuinely good for everyone.”

The Co-operative Futures conference will be held at the Alexandra House conference centre in Swindon from Friday, January 28 to Sunday, January 30. Full attendance, from Friday to Sunday morning, which includes two dinners, lunch, bed and breakfast, costs £250+VAT. Friday dinner, bed & breakfast plus the Saturday event costs £175 + VAT and coming to only the Saturday event costs £100+VAT.

Future Co-operatives is sponsored by The Midcounties Co-operative and Co-operative and Community Finance. For more information or booking details email or call 0845 4562 506.

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