Last week the Co-operative Party launched its local government manifesto, a comprehensive set of policy ideas for Labour & Co-operative councillors to take forward to put co-op principles at the heart of local services for local communities.
Councils have long been working hand in hand with local residents and businesses to provide housing, maintain roads, deliver education and create healthy and vibrant communities. For decades, Labour councils have been pioneers of co-operative ideas, developing new structures that empower service users and the workforce, nurturing local voluntary groups and founding mutual ventures like credit unions, set up to provide affordable savings and loans and prevent loan sharks taking hold.
The challenge for councils now is a great one. Under attack from Eric Pickles and the coalition government, councillors are facing large reductions in grant income just at the time when demand for council services is increasing, as communities face growing unemployment and pressure on their finances. At the same time, our expectations of public services are changing. People want to have greater influence over the services they use and a greater say in what their council plans for the future.
In social care, direct payments of benefits is allowing those receiving care to direct their own care and control how money is spent on their behalf, employing carers directly or providing relief in other ways not usually part of the suite of local council services. But employment law and the coordination of often poorly paid care workers across wide areas can make this difficult for many people to meet these new demands. In Croydon, South London, where I served as a Labour & Co-op councillor myself, care users and their families have come together with the support of the council and the Department of Health under Labour to form Caring Support, a new co-op. These have brought together service users, informal carers and personal care assistants to ensure that both users and employees can benefit from a more formalised system of care and economies of scale. This means that recipients are able to remain in control of the day to day provision of how their care is provided, while personal care assistants of the co-operative are able to ensure that they receive appropriate employment conditions.
And, almost 20 years ago, Greenwich’s Labour council decided to form a co-op to run its leisure assets rather than oversee their continued decline and shut swimming pools. Now Greenwich Leisure, owned by its employees and overseen by a board including councillors and workforce and community representatives, is thriving, running the leisure services for many other local authorities and the National Sports Centre.
So, from leisure to housing, through economic development and support for international co-operation as Fairtrade boroughs, the co-operative ideas in our manifesto give a practical set of tested policies that local councils can implement to address the needs of their areas. It draws on the excellent work of the credit union movement, of housing co-ops and of many Labour councils around the country who have already done so much to further this agenda. Today, we hope that Labour will, with the support of its sister party the Co-operative Party, gain ground across the country in local government, retaking control of a whole set of councils. There are hundreds of candidates standing as Labour & Co-operative and hundreds more Co-operative Party members hoping to become Labour councillors. Whether it’s prospective council leaders like Councillor Jim McMahon in Oldham and Councillor Tudor Evans in Plymouth, or hopeful first-time councillors like Kev Peel in Manchester and Lis Telcs in Brighton & Hove, our strong team of Labour & Co-operative campaigners are ready to put co-operative ideas at the heart of their work to improve services and deal with the challenges of their community. This manifesto gives them the toolkit to make that happen.