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Saturday, 31 March 2012

Are Co-Operatives re-emerging as a viable way forward for stable local economy, social inclusion and renewable energy to support our communities?

Co-Operatives in the UK – a viable solution to our problems?

Given a recent great deal of public lectures, interviews, surveys and research has been undertaken - it illuminates the fact that it would seem that Co-Operatives are making a strong resurgence in recent years. The internet makes for massive global co-operative, where we are encouraged to air our views by blogs, forums, videos, own websites, contributing to others websites - yet for the most part there is a global exchange of ideals, comments and proverbial exchange of (mental) fire.

In essence we are contributing to a larger scale co-operative over the last two decades which is becoming increasingly more efficient and organised. It would seem there are no boundaries if you want to make some contribution and partake in something larger than ourselves as individual entities.

Co-operatives still bring to mind images of low key operations, yet they are making a strong stand now in the adverse face of economic decline and the possible failure of globalisation/outsourcing etc.

The retail business; John Lewis are constantly mentioned by the Government and media as example of a business philosophy where the rewards are shared amongst the staff involved in the running of the company - at ALL levels, with no one being left out in the cold. This supports a comprehensive Social Inclusion which is one of the three tiers of Sustainable Development.

On Thursday, 8th March 2012 Veteran economist Robin Murray (London School of Economics) and Prof Stephen Yeo  (chair of the Co-Operative Heritage Trust) proudly gave a public lecture at Cardiff University on Co-Operatives in the 21st Century and reflected on where we came from and what direction are we going in? Why are Co-Operatives more successful in Europe than the UK?

The end result was although the status, the practice, the guidelines and rules that British Co-Operatives put up front are practical and functional which all involved parties are easily able to adhere to, what was lacking was up front funds. Something Northern European countries had been successful in was pulling in the funds up front to get so many ventures within the co-operatives started. So what can the UK do to improve this situation? (See 'the problem is ....' below)

(Renewable) Energy Co-Operatives

This is an area of great interest, particularly with its formidable opportunities of energy security and supporting the triad within Sustainability principles of:
  1. Social Inclusion - local co-operatives for communities to get behind and reap the benefits from.
  2. Stable Economics - local economic benefits, the sales made in the area directly feed the profits back into the local area/community to make improvements/regeneration.
  3. Benign Environmental Activity - a Wind Power, Micro-Hydro or Community owned Solar/PV installation has obvious zero (or negative) Carbon positive environmental contributions to make. 
There are active Wind co-operatives such AAT (Awel Aman Tawe), Allt Dearg Community Wind Farm or Westmill Co-Operatives and organisations such as Arts Factory are engaging the concepts of community owned renewable energy Co-Operative initiatives. Additionally micro-Hydro co-operatives such as Torrs Hydro are in operation around the UK. How can we expand these to more communities everywhere? Are Co-Operatives the answer? What are the initial hurdles to overcome? 
Housing Co-Operatives
Housing Co-Operatives are becoming more evident over the years, with new exciting initiatives always on the horizon. One such group is Co-Housing Cymru, which is looking for prospective members to invest and partake in this sustainable housing co-operative. This will encourage real community roots, a stronger inter-connectivity within the social context, sourcing local materials (less transportation kilometres and energy waste) and environmentally benign building activities that makes for much less C&D (Construction and Demolishing) waste.

The problem is ……… 
In other European countries, the existing co-operatives have evolved in a different manner to British ones, they have a stronger source of central funding for the foundation of their projects. In the UK this is sadly something that has come up short.
The strong foundation of co-operative organisation is in place, the rules, the conduct, well managed strong social/economic ethos, the processing is all in place – yet finding the funding to get small to large scale projects up and running are a real challenge for the British Co-Operatives. So what can the UK do? The problem (like everything else) is a lack of money!
A proposal:
So how do we go forward? Marriage of socialism and capitalism – for example; a co-operative foundation set up an energy co-op. they have 5000 members in the locality of a small town, yet are severely short of fund. Thus the co-operative (successful in its bank application criteria) take out a conventional bank loan to set up the e.g. Micro-Hydro scheme or several wind turbines.

The loan equates to 3-9 million pounds, euro’s, dollars (your own countries currency) which will pay for the manufacturing of the hardware/turbine technology, planning, monitoring, the installation and commissioning and the many other necessities to make the projects viable.

The negotiations are concluded [between Bank and Co-operative] in a manner that sale of the electricity will fund the following processes: 
·         Repayment of the bank loan (for the first 5-10 years) Main immediate priority - short term.

·         Funds injected into the local community to support/set up/maintain - all long term priority! 
§  Post offices, Crèche, Public amenities etc.
§  Community rebuilding programmes.
§  Training programmes for those seeking new employment/career change etc.

·        Once the bank loan is repaid – more money will be available for the local economy and regeneration processes.
Obviously, even with the cuts (although as of April 2012 this may have been held off yet again!) in Fit’s [Feed in Tariff’s] the potentially lower rates paid for export of renewable energy to the grid, will still support renewable energy schemes as an additional bonus to help reduce payback period and inject more funds into the community. Many incentives are set up, public demand is there; it is merely down to strong and sound minds forming the initial co-operative and moving the notion forward.
The list of community improvements will be extensive and many of the co-operatives being established at present will have some very unique ideas. Now doubt these ideas and results will be published online in the future as case studies to encourage people all over the world to partake in such new ventures.
Is this revolutionary?
Are these ideas really that new? Or are we just going back to basics? Centuries ago; co-operatives were the norm as a means of fair and equal sharing, where everyone in the community (as equals) were involved. Basic guidelines gave us a standard to work to, this evolved as the co-operatives were pulled to growth. In one respect, we are merely realigning ourselves with what has been established for a very long time before our selfish dabble of materialism began, en mass, in the mid-20th century to present - which although believed to be a strong source of supporting GDP [Gross Domestic Product] such indulgences of materialism and acquiring it, was one of the main contributory factors for causing many recessions.
Just as there has been a recent re-ignition of so many old traditional ways of life: Co-Operatives, Generational housing, communities are reconnecting – frequently pulled to growth as people understand we cannot go it alone. Establishment of farmers markets are bringing farmers and the communities back together. Credit Unions are pushing to get more local funds available for their respective members.

We can get there!

More people are taking a strong interest in investing in Community Renewable Energy platforms, Local Food Markets, Sustainable Housing projects - We encourage you to do your research and get involved in this exciting re-emerging Co-Operatives markets. It will be a strong foot forward to improving our quality of life; socially, economically, environmentally, spiritually and make for happier lifestyles and a productive society!