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The Cooperative Party Manifesto: What it Means for Local Government
Abigail Gilbert, Researcher, NLGN, 24 May, 2017

Like the Green or Women’s Equality Parties, the Cooperative Party Manifesto was written with an explicit desire for its policies to be adopted by another party. But unlike them, this manifesto represents the priorities of a number of MPs likely to be elected to parliament. Whilst many Labour MPs are also members of the Co-operative Party, Labour Co-op MPs have the express endorsement of both parties. In the last election, 28 were elected to parliament.

The Cooperative Party’s guiding ideology – associationalism – follows the principal that welfare and liberty are best served when social outcomes are managed by voluntary and democratically self-governing associations. This agenda has seen a resurgence in recent years, through the Localism Act, Big Society agenda, and a broader political acceptance that service users and providers should be given more of a say in service design and delivery.

Arguing that a radical overhaul of local government is needed if it is to remain effective, relevant and accountable, the manifesto presents cooperative models as a route to increase transparency and accountability in local public services, and deliver more social economies which are sensitive to local differences, and empowering of communities. While they set out a full agenda for devolution in a separate publication, ‘By Us, For Us’ this manifesto also contains a number of key implications for local government:

Devolution, Service Integration and Improved Accountability


Devolution of Economic Power

  • More support for Local Enterprise Partnerships and Combined Authorities
  • Devolution of significant powers over the Work Programme and adult skills and infrastructure
  • Empower Combined Authorities with the same powers as Transport for London

New and enhanced community rights

  • Extend Localism Act 2011 to enable bus routes to be deemed assets of community value
  • When local authorities decide to externalise services, there should be a ‘Right to Try’ for employees, service users and the wider community giving them six months to establish a cooperative or social enterprise
  • Government should introduce a Public Service Users Bill to improve accountability of services, including the ‘Right to Recall’ a provider in the case of a serious breach of trust; the ability to trigger investigations; and the right for individuals to choose their provider in certain circumstances
  • Right to Bid period should be extended from 6months to 9months, with further extension when the asset owner refuses to speak to interested groups
  • Community Interest Groups that have successfully listed assets should be given a ‘First Right of Refusal’ to purchase the asset, making the right to bid into a right to buy

Health and Social Care


  • Health and social care models should be built around the ‘whole person’, which relies on integrated whole systems (no content on how to achieve this)
  • A ‘right to run’ would require workers, care recipients and community representatives to be offered positions on corporate boards
  • A ‘right to own’ would allow carers working for private organisations to mutualise a service, reflecting public sector’s ‘right to request’
  • Quality Care Commission should modify its inspection methodology, to capture the ownership model of registered providers. This would allow better commissioner intelligence on how well care is delivered
  • Social Care Act should place a duty on local authorities to promote cooperative organisations to deliver care

Double Devolution: Cooperative, Mutual and Community Involvement in Service Delivery


Energy

  • Support growth and development of community owned energy schemes, by reinstating Feedin-Tariffs, Social Investment Tax Relief and the Enterprise Investment Scheme for this sector
  • Piloting of direct supply of community owned renewable energy to local consumers with a view to make this mainstream by 2020
  • Development of rules surrounding grid access and recognition of community ownership within planning guidelines

Housing

  • Establish a national presumption in favour of land use change where land value uplift is to be captured for community benefit
  • Create new cooperative housing tenure type in law to make legal navigation easier
  • Lift the ban on fully mutual cooperatives granting assured tenancies and give greater powers to lenders
  • Develop a financial intermediary to raise and manage institutional investment in new cooperative and mutual housing developments
  • Ban unfair estate agent fees, and work to develop a landlords cooperative to help manage and market properties outside of the private sector
  • Where local authorities hold ballots on stock transfer, residents should be given option to vote for community-led stock transfers
  • Tenants encouraged to use ‘Right to Manage’ by forming Tenant Management Organisations to take over management of council owned housing in their neighbourhood
  • Right to manage and right to transfer should be extended to housing association tenants to give them legal opportunities to manage housing services cooperatively

Transport

  • Network rail to be structured as a mutual to become more accountable to passengers and the public
  • Government support for the development of rail cooperatives
  • Encourage cooperative, mutual and not-for-profit companies to become provides providers for routes

Culture and Recreation

  • Create favourable tax incentives for community investment in supporter trust and community run sports clubs

Education

  • Move towards a cooperative model of schools and away from current competitive models
  • Amend Education and Inspections Act 2006 to enable co-operative schools to legally form under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Society Act 2014
  • Also allow nursery schools to become cooperative trusts, and encourage development of co-operative universities
  • Require all schools to have an elected body for students
  • Support supply teachers and freelance staff to organise into cooperatives
  • Barriers to procurement of cooperative agency teachers should be removed

Community Wealth Building and Creating inclusive economies


Capturing value locally through procurement

  • Harness opportunities presented by Brexit to strengthen the Social Value Act, giving more power to procure for social value
  • Public sector commissioners should have a ‘Duty to Account’ for rather than consider social value
  • Government should create measurable targets for their use of social value
  • Legislation should require public bodies to publish social value priorities and weighting of contracts towards them, and outline the steps they will take if social value targets are missed
  • Extend the Social Value Act to apply to goods and services contracts of a lower value
  • Requirement for tax transparency from all publically procured providers, using Fair Tax Mark standards
  • Living wage requirement in public contracts, with all providers required to meet appropriate standards in apprenticeships

Improving Financial Inclusion through Credit Unions

  • Create a target of trebling the number of members of credit unions by 2020
  • Ensure all public sector employers establish payroll deduction facilities for credit unions
  • Make it a requirement for private organisations tendering for public contracts to establish payroll deduction systems for credit unions
  • Open a credit union account for all schoolchildren to improve financial inclusion and education
  • Make targeted capital investment in credit unions, e.g. online and mobile platforms; improved digital capacity; and technology for back office functions

LBuilding Regional Social Economies

  • Develop a Co-operative Development Fund to develop worker owned cooperatives to be used in public contracts by all anchor institutions
  • Exempt community benefit societies from paying corporation tax and business and non-domestic rates
  • Move the Inclusive Economy Unit from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and appoint a new Minister for Mutuals
  • Develop regional banks tasked with lending to cooperatives, social enterprises, and small and medium sized businesses within the regions

A Place Based Approach to Crime


  • Government should endorse a co operative approach to policy making, working with communities and stakeholder groups to co-produce crime prevention strategies
  • Police forces should establish ‘participatory budgeting units’ allowing greater involvement of local communities in allocating police resources and setting local priorities
  • Local accountability should be improved by ensuring councils are involved in the appointment of local police commanders
  • Additional powers to local government to set priorities for neighbourhood policing, local policing of crime and antisocial behaviour
  • Local government should retain a proportion of the police precept ring fenced for the commissioning of police and crime priorities
  • Government should provide funding for the establishment of a street watch scheme in every lower tier authority

While not as radical or detailed on devolution as the Liberal Democrat Manifesto, the Coop Party offer a number of policy levers to ensure that devolution is twofold, not just from Westminster to Town Hall, but also from town hall out to communities.

However, much of what they endorse and call for in terms of community engagement, and collaboration across the public sector, can and should already be implemented by local authorities. The question after the election, therefore, is to what extent the national political landscape encourages this through permissive legislation for whole place approaches.


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