At the same time as local and city-regional government has been dealing with the immediacy of the COVID-19 pandemic response(s) we’ve also been actively considering in parallel how our nation will make its way out of the COVID-19 pandemic, and begin to rebuild our national economy and society.
We know that the task we face is severe. Post-COVID-19 and post-Brexit, the British economy will be under huge strain with record numbers of people now forced to rely on Universal Credit, rising levels of personal and household debt, constrained consumer spending and many tens of thousands of businesses already gone with more business and employment pressures around the corner as furlough and business support arrangements come to an end.
I’m sure we’ll all be listening intently to understand and make sense of the forthcoming provisions beyond the headlines within the Chancellor’s March budget!
The post-COVID-19 world will face many extreme challenges – and if we are not careful, our economic recovery (whatever form this actually takes) may crowd out small organisations and businesses as larger companies monopolise our economic space, crowding out independents and social enterprises, especially with the shift to convenient, online and automated consumerism.
Small businesses are not just important for an interesting High Street. Businesses, and particularly independents and social enterprises, provide community and character to a neighbourhood – they’re an intrinsic part of ‘place-making’. They also provide a livelihood for business owners and their employees, a creative opportunity to earn a living with one’s own ideas and on one’s own products, services and projects.
Losing these spaces could be catastrophic not just for our economy, but also for our society. This is where I believe co-operatives and social enterprises could hold the key to the post-COVID-19 recovery, providing a model for small and independent organisations to engage the community and animate our high-streets.
Co-ops and social enterprises can share risk in independent businesses and small organisations, reducing the anxiety and burden of ‘going it alone’.
They can contribute heavily towards the creation of communities – by their nature engaging people and communities in the running and management of an enterprise.
And with their empowerment of employees and supporters, co-operatives are a fantastic mechanism for sharing wealth out fairly between their employees, contributing to local supply chains and local economic growth – the multiplier effect of co-operative and social enterprises if you like!
But for co-operatives and social enterprises to take this opportunity in the post-COVID-19 world, local Councils and anchor institutions need to be ready to help support them and create opportunities.
The much vaunted Preston Model provides one way for Councils to support co-operatives and social enterprises, by aligning their procurement and commissioning policies with a more holistic and systemic appreciation of ‘quality’ and ‘value’ in tendering practices, incorporating factors such as decent pay for employees, utilisation of local supply chains, social value and environmental sustainability.
But beyond this, I am interested in looking at models where Councils play a more proactive and interventionist role in regeneration and redevelopment of our high streets and communities, which also incorporates a dynamic role for co-operatives and social enterprises. In Salford, we have begun to develop what we now call ‘The Salford Model’ – an approach to re-gear the post-industrial manufacturing economy of our city, as well as our public services. In short, it’s a policy of Council-led investment and regeneration, insourcing of core services and support for small businesses, co-operatives, social enterprises and SME’s. At the heart of this has been a focus on supported community-led projects – working hand in hand with our community and voluntary sector to get things done.
One such example could well be our embarking on a multi-million pound project to expand an exciting arts venue in our city, Islington Mill.
The Mill, having set up a charitable trust through which to govern the organisation, is to manage a large area of disused industrial land which the council has helped to acquire – which will be developed into accommodation and workspaces to be rented out at cheap rates for local creatives.
Through this proactive engagement, Salford is helping to build an exciting partnership – which I believe could be a model for the future. If councils are serious about seeing more co-operatives and social enterprises on our high streets, I believe we need to play a role in helping secure property and land, grant funding for development, and proactively creating opportunities for shared projects to deliver on their vision.
The Council has also embarked on community-led housing schemes, creating a housing ‘co-op’ alongside well-established community organisations (Broughton Trust and Inspiring Communities Together). The co-ops will provide truly affordable housing for residents, helping Salford people find affordable places to live as we continue to battle the housing and homeless crisis in the city.
And working with Greater Manchester Community Renewables’ share offerings, schools and communities across the city have been able to raise the finance to install solar panels on schools and community buildings, helping to save them money, reduce their carbon footprint, whilst also inspiring children and young people to learn about energy and climate change.
I believe that co-operatives and social enterprises could form the backbone of our post-COVID-19 economic recovery – a recovery built on developing craft and creativity skills, sharing wealth more equitably, building community networks, partnerships and mutual solidarity.
But one thing’s for sure – they will need our help!
Paul Dennett, Mayor of Salford