It looks like we’re heading into a deep economic and social crisis. Many livelihoods and businesses will be destroyed. But business as usual was already an unfolding catastrophe; for the planet if not (yet) for those of us lucky enough to be on the cushy end of our economy’s skewed distributions of wealth and power.
We need co-ops in uncertain times
COVID-19 has certainly brought frightening truths about our world into sharper focus. Like how precarious the situation is for millions of households in the UK. Or how easily our supply of basic necessities can be disrupted. And, most scary of all, how much our lives would really need to change to reduce GHG emissions to a level that actually averts climate disaster.
In recent months, millions have participated in and benefited from solidarity and mutual aid. They may now have more confidence in the power of community and co-operation to help us escape the hole we’ve dug ourselves into.
But we must not assume that all these people will automatically shift the way they consume, earn a living and do business. Some will. And the more people are given good options to shift their behaviour, the more of them will actually do so, and in more substantial ways.
Co-ops offer people these good options; where they already exist or where the conditions are favourable for forming new ones. So we need as many co-ops as possible to survive the coming recession. In fact we need them to thrive and multiply.
Our policy work continues to focus on making sure government’s support for business helps our members through this crisis. Here’s some areas we are currently working on:
- AGM flexibility – We’ve successfully lobbied for government to extend legislation giving companies greater flexibility in how they hold their AGMs, to co-operative and community benefit societies. These measures will give societies legal certainty and comfort if they have to breach their rules to delay their AGMs or hold them in unusual ways.
- New grant scheme – A new local authority grant scheme is being readied in England, aimed at struggling small businesses that are ineligible for other grants. We are actively encouraging local authorities to target some of this support at local co-ops and community businesses that have missed out on the other grants. We advise members who need a grant to get in touch with their local authority without delay. Read more here
- Insolvency reforms – Thanks to our lobbying, government has decided to extend its fast-tracked insolvency reforms (originally intended only for companies) to include co-operative and community benefit societies as well. These measures will increase the chances that societies in financial distress survive and could not come at a more critical time. Read more here
Build back better
But it’s also time to stake our claim to the future. Co-ops are among the top performers in terms of environmental sustainability and economic justice. Governments around the world are making multi-billion pound economic interventions. These interventions must be guided by clear policy objectives for a more sustainable and inclusive economy.
Can co-ops stand by while government uses public money to prop up businesses who undercut them environmentally and socially?
The interventions government is going to have to make to drive investment, support existing businesses and encourage the formation of new ones, gives it huge leverage to drive sustainable, fair private sector behaviour. It is unlikely that a government in a market democracy will have this degree of leverage again, within the window of opportunity we have left.