“Co-ops can fuel our community spirit, keep us safe from a pandemic of poverty and make sure the pounds we spend stay local, right here in the West Midlands”, says Liam Byrne.

A new wave of co-operative businesses and organisations could help fuel the resurgence of community spirit, safeguard the West Midlands from a pandemic of poverty - and make sure our pound stays local, says Labour MP and West Midlands’ Mayoral Candidate, Liam Byrne, as he welcomes a specially commissioned report of a West Midlands Co-operative Task Force co-chaired by Preet Gill MP, Wolverhampton Councillor Olivia Birch and Birmingham, Solihull & Tamworth Co-op Branch Chair, Tony Kennedy.

The ten-strong taskforce were drawn from co-operatives throughout the West Midlands who worked through the summer to produce “Our future in our hands – a co-operative plan for the next mayor of the West Midlands”. The report was unveiled at the Co-operative Party Annual Conference, held virtually on Sunday 11 October.

The report shows how a future Mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority could harness the spending power and influence of local institutions, major businesses, community groups, and local councils to support a wave of new co-operative businesses and organisations and bring value to the community, through an action plan to drive forward:   

  • New community & co-op innovation districts to help re-open and revive empty buildings as neighbourhood hubs with co-ops providing local services, strengthening community links, and giving a lift to high streets and neighbourhoods
  • A community-led food revolution with a new West Midlands Food Board to tackle food waste and poverty and improve the food system, along with new Food Justice Partnerships to bring communities together with institutions and businesses to deliver zero hunger
  • Harness the money spent on services by large businesses and organisations such as councils, universities, police and hospitals to support new cooperative businesses, employing local people and ensure money is retained in the West Midlands
  • Emulate Bristol Energy’s success in delivering energy efficiency for community buildings and homes, plus a ‘solar for schools’ programme, and a housing retrofit co-op to employ local people to save energy bills, address fuel poverty and tackle emissions

Liam Byrne said: 

‘After a pandemic of disease, we now face a pandemic of poverty with 1.3 million residents of the region already unemployed, on furlough or the self-employment support scheme. As the second spike sets in, it’s now clear that an Autumn of Anxiety and a Winter of Worry lies ahead for millions. 

“Yet, this ground-breaking report now shows how solidarity can safeguard us against the pandemic of poverty.  If there’s been one silver lining of lockdown it was the resurgence of community spirit. Neighbours clapping together, talking to one another, looking out for each other, packing food parcels, delivering meals, and making sure our neighbours aren’t lonely. It’s been proof that that our freedom from fear depends on our capacity to co-operate. So let’s build on that instinct for the years ahead”, explained Liam Byrne.

“We already have first class examples here, in the West Midlands, of co-ops which keep our pound local, provide jobs, and support their communities. 

“In Coventry we have a “Social Supermarket” offering affordable, quality food and advice. 

“In Birmingham we have the Growing Project which helps vulnerable people grow their own food and the City Council helped launch CitySave, a credit union for young people.

“Wolverhampton’s House Project employs young people to refurbish houses.

“In Sandwell, firms bidding for council contracts must say how their work will benefit the community. 

“Co-ops can work in virtually every sector of the economy. There are many examples elsewhere in the country of co-ops in social care, schools, and green energy schemes.  We need this thinking in the West Midlands.

“We want to put many of our regions empty buildings to good use by creating “community & co-op innovation hubs” where local people can come together, co-ops can be based, and provide local services and local jobs.

“And we should start with a community-led food revolution with a new West Midlands Food Board to tackle food waste and poverty and improve the food system, and create new Food Justice Partnerships bringing communities together with institutions and businesses to deliver zero hunger,” he added.

The task force’s full report can be found at https://party.coop/west-midlands-report