Peter Couchman is the Chief Executive of the Plunkett Foundation.

The Plunkett Foundation is the organisation which promotes and supports co-operative and social enterprises in rural communities both in the UK and internationally. It provides support, networks and knowledge which offers practical solutions for rural communities that helps to create thriving places where people live and work now and in the future.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Three tests for mutualisation

With all the main parties open to mutualising public services, one of the challenges in the near future could be to decide which services are best for mutualisation. From a Plunkett perspective, our experience suggests that there are three tests that should be applied to create a shortlist. These are:

1) Is there a clear problem to be solved by the mutual? The public and politicians like mutuals that solve problems. Village shops, pubs, football clubs etc have all shown that it is easy to grasp what the problem they are solving is.

2) Is there public support for solving this problem? The test is whether the area to be mutualised is something that the average person will see the logic and benefit of.

3) Is the model simple to understand? The solution needs to be one that it is clear to all how it will operate and why.

Once these three tests have created a shortlist, there are a whole range of other factors that will come into play to ensure that long term sustainable businesses are created. But any incoming Government would be wise to look at the big picture first.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

One year on

It's been a while since I've celebrated a first birthday, especially when it is my own. But today marks one year as Plunkett's chief executive for me.

It has been an incredible first year, seeming both very long and flying by at the same time. It has also been quite an amazing year. We seen the community-ownership of village shops enter the mainstream with around 10% of closures being prevented. We've been given a credibility beyond logic by our appearance on The Archers, not to mention most national newspapers.

This way of solving problems has widened out with the new community-owned pubs and community transport with others in the pipeline. Our work with Community Food Enterprises is certainly one to watch.

It has also been a year of re-establishing old friendships and making some new ones with other organisations. I can't name you all, but I'm grateful to each and every one of you.

If there is one part of the work that has shaped the last year, it has been the humbling experience of visiting the actual enterprises that we support. Seeing what they have achieved and realising how much more could be achieved has not only made this year such a pleasure, it is also what will drive me on in the coming year.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Time to celebrate

The Plunkett Foundation will be putting all its enthusiasm (and that's a lot) into Britain's first Co-operatives Fortnight in June. There are several reasons for this.

Firstly, it is long overdue. America has a great month long celebration and Canada has as Co-op Week. But Britain has done little to celebrate the impact of co-operation apart from a few International Co-operative Day celebrations (including some fetes, galas and bunfights which showed very little that was international and even less that was co-operative).

Secondly, there couldn't be a better time to go on the front foot to show that there is an alternative. We, along with many other co-operative organisations, are seeing a surge of interest in co-operative solutions.

Finally, Plunkett is keen to participate to make the point that some of the most dynamic new co-operatives are coming from rural communities and it is time that the Co-operative Movement recognised them.

Many years ago, I remember a worldly wise co-operative manager lamenting that the problem that co-operatives had was that they were always one step away from being fashionable. In June this year, we'll be helping to tale that step.