The Co-operative Councils Innovation Network is a collaboration between local authorities who are committed to finding better ways of working for, and with, local people for the benefit of their local community. Our work recognises the need to define a new model for local government built on civic leadership, with councils working in equal partnership with local people to shape and strengthen communities.
This means a new role for local authorities that replaces traditional models of top down governance and service delivery with local leadership, genuine co-operation, and a new approach built on the founding traditions of the co-operative movement: collective action, co-operation, empowerment and enterprise. Our President and founder, Steve Reed MP said at our recent conference in Rochdale ‘The old politics can no longer deal with the scale of the challenges we face or the kind of society we’ve become. It’s made people lose faith in the future. We need to build a new politics that are more open, more accountable and more responsive day to day directly to the people it serves so instead of fearing the future people can shape it’.
Our Network has become the fastest growing network in local government. Driven by a shared sense of values and a belief that the best policy-making is driven from our communities and residents, our unique action-based innovation and shared learning is proving valuable to our members as the challenges of austerity bite ever deeper. We believe that whatever the challenges that face local government, and we all know there are plenty, there is always a cooperative solution based on residents fundamental involvement in designing and working with us to produce better services. That is what we call our ‘Coop Difference’ and it is why we believe so strongly that it brings a definite ‘dividend’ (to use a Coop word) for our community
Our network provides a national voice for co-operative councils, informed by real experience and practice, with the aim of drawing on, influencing and framing national policy and political debates about the future of public services, local democracy, and communities across the country.
The values have not changed since coops began over 150 years ago; self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of our founders, cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, education, social responsibility and caring for others.
So where does the Co-op Councils Innovation Network fit into this movement? Steve Reed, Jim McMahon and I, when we first started talking about the concept of a network over five years ago, saw this as a way of driving and sharing the cooperative ways of working we were developing in our own councils and of bringing together other councils and councillors who shared our values.
We are now a network of 28 councils from Glasgow to Plymouth and from Hull to Cardiff, we cover areas with a total population of 7.4m residents and budgets of nearly £10m. We also have five London Boroughs in membership, and the Greater Manchester Authority. Last year we expanded our membership to offer affiliate, associate and individual members the opportunity to join taking the total membership to 66 organisations. We have been delighted to welcome town, community and parish councils into the network as well as opposition groups that share our values.
Fundamentally our councils believe in ‘people-powered’ politics, that residents must be involved in designing, leading and delivering the services that we all use. We believe that councils should be seen as facilitators and enablers of communities, not the dead hand of bureaucracy that stops things When that happens successfully, there is to use an old fashioned Co-op word, a real dividend for the individuals, families and communities we serve.
We are not a ‘think-tank’ or part of an academic study, we are a group of councils who are innovating in real-time in real communities and in action-focused projects around the country. We share our learning across the network and meet together to further develop our ideas. In previous years we have published reports on cooperative-led housing and community asset transfer. Last year we funded policy labs to enable our members to explore work that engaged communities in new ways and to encourage the development of cooperative economies. Our innovation focus for this year is on health and social care and we recently agreed to fund for 11 policy prototypes to enable us to contribute to the debate on one of the key issues facing local government.
Our councils are contributing to the national debate on building fairer local economies too; in Bristol, Plymouth, Manchester and Stevenage as well as Preston work is going on to ensure the power of local spending is harnessed to improve employment prospects and drive out wealth inequalities.
There is innovation across our network; on community neighbourhood planning, housing, tackling domestic abuse led by victims and survivors, tackling health inequalities, working in partnership with children to shape children’s services, creating and sharing digital infrastructure and many other areas of council activity. We share our knowledge & innovation by publishing on our website where we currently have over 200 case studies and at regular events and conferences.
We want to encourage our members to develop the solutions to today’s problems and be thinking about those that will come round the corner tomorrow. Fundamentally, building the capacity of those individuals and families that make up our communities builds their resilience and makes them stronger, that has to be a real dividend!
You can find out more about our network here: https://www.councils.coop/
Cllr Sharon Taylor OBE
Chair of the CCIN & Leader of Stevenage Borough Council