Loanna Morrison is Director of the Conservative Co-operative Movement and contested Bermondsey and Old Southwark at the 2010 general election.
Contrary to left wing propaganda, the Conservative Co-operative Movement exists, and is growing on solid foundations. Among our increasing membership are dozens of Conservative MPs.
We Conservatives recognise that co-operatives and mutuals can be and are, the fundamental building blocks for the Big Society. But not in the old, one for all and all for one Socialist dogma.
We believe as we square up to the sheer bad management and economic fecklessness of the past decade under Labour that co-operatives have the potential to revolutionise the way we provide goods and services.
Far from the socialist workers' definition of co-operatives, contemporary versions represent alternative complementary models of capitalism where risk and returns are distributed more equitably.
Like all successful businesses they depend on strong entrepreneurial leadership and teamwork.
In fact, the great success of organisations like the John Lewis Partnership demonstrates that co-operatives are more than capable of beating shareholder-owned businesses at their own game. The co-operative economy is worth nearly £34 billion and has a membership of around 13 million members. That represents a huge constituency of people who enjoy a say in what their employer does and how it does it.
But it is to the public sector that the co-operative concept can bring the greatest benefits. All the evidence indicates that housing, transport, social care and other services could become more affordable, more accountable and better-managed if they were provided by co-operatives instead of local authorities.
Many people seem to think that the Big Society represents an unrealistic expectation on the part of the Coalition: that volunteers can be expected to compensate for reductions in public spending. Of course they can't. It is co-operatives – not volunteers – which are best placed to save our public services from the consequences of Labour's reckless spending. Because co-operatives don't just provide volunteering opportunities – they also create jobs.
The Coalition has pledged £400 million through the Big Society Bank to get the ball rolling and Francis Maude has announced new rights and support to enable the development of this sector. Most of us believe him when he says, “When staff are given a stake in shaping services productivity and efficiency has been shown to improve dramatically. We must not be afraid to take bold decisions that will help create better public services at a time when there is less money to go round.” We believe the state can enable, but action depends on us all.
So join our Conservative Co-operative Movement, promote your local co-operative initiatives and encourage all types of service providers to consider the benefits of joint ownership – even if they are members of the Labour Party!