Labour and Co-op Party MP Jim Dobbin this week called for community co-ops to be given a greater role on local enterprise partnerships and better understanding and support the business community.
Dobbin highlighted the key role co-ops play in regional economic recovery as he introduced the ‘Co-operative and Social Enterprise (Development) Bill’ into Parliament on Tuesday. This private member’s bill will require LEPs, responsible for supporting regional economic growth, to have at least one board member who is a social enterprise business specialist, and for them to make specific reference to the development of community co-ops and social enterprises in their plans.
LEPS were introduced three years ago following the coalition government’s abolition of regional development agencies, and the bill responds to concerns that they lack the resources and expertise to support the specific needs of socially-led businesses, and are therefore failing to provide a level playing field.
In 2013, the Business Innovation and Skills Select Committee raised concerns about the balance and diversity of businesses represented on the boards of LEPs, which it said were too often skewed against community-owned businesses. This view is supported by Dobbin’s own contact with small and large co-operatives around the country, which say they need more support.
In his speech introducing the bill, Dobbin said:
“I have contacted many large and small co-operatives around the country during the development of my bill, and many have told me that they are currently struggling to engage with or understand the LEP process.
“As co-operators we passionately believe that the values and principles which underpin co-operatives and mutuals offer an alternative more ethical and democratic way for businesses to operate. We believe that all must be done to ensure a level playing field for their establishment and development.”
Dobbin explained his decision to introduce the Bill, saying:
“Even as the challenges faced by Britain’s largest co-operative dominate the headlines, a new generation of community co-ops are helping to drive the economic recovery. Creating jobs, providing training and skills, and investing in the future of their communities.
“LEPs were created by the Coalition to support exactly these kinds of start-ups. But it’s fast becoming clear that they simply don’t understand socially-responsible businesses like co-operatives.
“The Bill will guarantee the social sector a voice by requiring LEPs to have at least one board member who is a social enterprise business specialist. It will also ensure that co-operatives and social enterprises are put at the heart of longer-term strategies for economic regeneration, requiring them to make specific reference to the development of community co-ops and social enterprises in their plans.
“I believe these small steps will help to ensure that co-ops and social enterprises get the support they need from their local enterprise partnerships, enabling them to grow and thrive.
“More significantly, giving social enterprises a strong voice will ensure that their wider ethos of social value, democratic control, ethics and sustainability are put at the heart of plans for regional economic development – ensuring a recovery that works for us all.”
Dobbin’s initiative was supported by Mark Sesnan, chief executive of Greenwich Leisure, a co-operative which runs over 115 leisure facilities across the country:
“I fully support the concept of embedding social enterprise and co-operative expertise and experience into LEPs. When I was on the board of the now defunct Business Link for London, I was amazed at how little understanding there was of alternative business models, and these were professional business advisers.”
Read Jim Dobbin’s blog on the Co-op Party website here.