In 2015, the Wales Co-operative Centre and Co-operatives UK asked Pat Conaty to report on the social and co-operative economy innovation in Wales and to set this in a policy context, as uneven growth and imbalanced recovery from the downturn persists across the UK.
Conaty has united the report of community economic development practice recorded in the Localising Prosperity report by Localise West Midlands, and also LWM’s ‘follow on’ work, with the less understood Solidarity Economy thinking and practice common in France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece. He also refers to Quebec and parts of the USA, where Solidarity Economy concepts have been aligned and blended with community economic development practices, sometimes described as a Collaborative Economy strategy.
Conaty advances the case for community economic development methods (including community land trusts, community development finance and community reinvestment) as the the first strand of a Collaborative Economy strategy for Wales.
His report considers evidence about how a collaborative economy model could provide concrete and practical guidance to regions who need a fundamentally new revival strategy.
Conaty points out that references to the growth spike of about 2% annually over the past two years can be misleading, because Greater London has been experiencing a boom whilst other regions, particularly in the north of England and Wales, have not.
Observing that when times get hard, mutuality stages a revival and commonly fills the gaps where competition and markets have failed, Conaty cites the growth of the new sharing economy that includes innovation in peer to peer lending, crowd funding, the far less publicised expansion of the co-operative economy in the wake of the banking crash and has outperformed the UK economy. He adds that over half the jobs in the UK are today provided by small and medium enterprises, of which 15% are social enterprises.
The social economy
Many European countries have been more successful since the 1970s in expanding the contribution of co-operatives and mutuals to their national economies. While co-operative businesses account for 2% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the UK, they account for 8% in Germany, 10% in Italy and between 12% and 19% of GDP in Scandinavian countries (see The Co-operative Advantage).
Over time, collaboration has been fostered between social enterprises, co–operatives and the public sector, presenting a model of public social partnerships. These methods and most of the institutional forms of innovation are emerging in Wales and this report considers how these practices can be further developed.
The solidarity economy
The solidarity economy currently accounts for in between 5% to 11.5% of different labour markets across Europe, spreading from Italy to France, Belgium, Holland and Sweden where the share of the national labour force ranges from 9% to 11.5%. Read more here. It includes a broader range of organisations than the social economy such as:
- Worker co-operatives, reclaimed factories, co-working and social enterprises
- Community and co-operative energy and the mutualisation of utilities
- Organic farming, slow food and local production chains
- The Commons movement, zero waste citizens networks and Transition Towns
- Social banks, mutual and sustainable finance and local currency
- Co-housing, home exchanges and community self-build
- Fair trade networks both in the southern and increasingly the northern hemispheres as austerity deepens
- Shared transport and co-operative or mutual public transport.
Conaty endorses the idea of a public investment bank for Wales but cautions: “this is no magic answer without addressing the supply chain and working to set up the enabling policy framework to support the transition to a new economy that is grounded in the ‘fair’ and equitable provision of services to meet citizen needs”.
Professor of Accounting and Political Economy Karel Williams makes the case for a proactive role by local authorities to develop localised supply chains and patterns of employment. Moreover, Adamson and Lang, writing on the CREW website show that such a strategy could jointly tackle fuel and food poverty, create employment and address climate change.
Crew, Regeneration Wales, has been established to promote integrated regeneration throughout Wales by sharing experience, good practice and regeneration skills across all the professions that contribute to the regeneration process. CREW sees housing repair, low-carbon improvement measures and new construction as promoting local economic development and securing economic, social, cultural and environmental sustainability by 2030.
The report may be read here: http://www.walescooperative.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/A-Collaborative-Economy-for-the-Common-Good.pdf