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, 28 September 2010

Time to reflect

The distinct lack of posts from me over the last few months has been a reflection of the hectic life at Plunkett post-election. A few weeks back, I was given a chance to reflect on this at the excellent Futures North conference in Leeds. I explored what our experiences of engaging with the Coalition Government on the Big Society had been like so far.

It probably surprised a few that I had some positive things to say. In particular, I highlighted its willingness to address the barriers that stand in the way of communities developing co-operative enterprises. This barrier removal agenda was across Government and at all levels. It should be commended and supported.

But I also highlighted the current design fault in Big Society thinking, namely its inability to recognise that communities do not, and should not have to, reinvent wheels every time they want to solve a problem. This sharing of ideas and best practice has always been a vital part of community development, yet the Government was still struggling to appreciate the role that infrastructure organisations play in helping communities to solve problems faster and more effectively.

The Co-operative Movement has known this since its early days. I cited Mondragon, Quebec and Davis as examples of how that willingness to support had marked the upward surge of the Movement. But it also gave a challenge to co-operators, for it required us to act rather than waiting for others. The Co-operative Enterprise Hub is a great example of a co-operative doing just that. I also cited our own reaction to the Government's cancellation of the Community Pub Support Programme. Our approach had been to bring together other co-operators who would have supported the original scheme and to agree together that we would support every one of the 82 communities that the Government had turned its back on.

This co-operative approach to life would not only make the Big Society real, it might also help to build the Co-operative Movement we dreamt of.

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