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.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Localism & Mutualisation: time to learn from the 19th century

The Coalition Government has the opportunity to learn from a 19th century co-operative mistake or to limit the opportunity that its Big Society presents. At present we have a Government committed to the mutualisation of public service and localism bringing more community control, with the two being developed separately.
In the late 19th century, the rapidly expanding Co-operative Movement went to war with itself over the role of worker co-operation. One side wanted to see the new factories as worker owned, the other saw consumer co-operation as the only true way forward. Sadly, both lost out in the conflict, leaving a movement divided and less diverse than many of its international counterparts. It is only in recent years that serious attempts have been made to find common ground between the two camps.

What the Government needs to learn quickly is that these are not two separate initiatives, just as the very early co-ops drew no distinction. Mutualisation will only succeed if there is genuine engagement with local communities including them having ownership where relevant. Localism needs to include enterprise and worker co-operation has a vital role to play here. The Big Society needs to see this connection or pay the price that the Co-operative Movement has done for its 19th century error.

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