Key areas of public policy for co-ops are devolved matters in Northern Ireland, including co-operative law, communities policy, industrial strategy and enterprise support.
Northern Ireland has a strong and well-established co-operative sector, especially in agriculture and credit unions. In recent years we have also seen a new wave of co-ops emerge, particularly in the community sphere.
Through the right mix of supportive policy the government in Northern Ireland can create the right conditions for workers and communities to co-operate, take control and build a genuinely inclusive economy for the common good.
Review of legal framework
The Department for the Economy has announced that after its registry function is transferred to the FCA it will begin a major review of the legislation for co-operative and community benefit societies in Northern Ireland. This follows ministerial commitments Co-operatives UK helped to secure during the passage of the The Credit Unions, Co-operatives and Community Benefit Societies Act (Northern Ireland) 2016.
In a recent meeting with the Department for the Economy we were told that this will be a fundamental review and overhaul of society law. We do not believe such a significant review has been ever conducted. Today, society legislation needs updating, is clunky and in some places is outright dysfunctional. This is a once in a generation opportunity to give Northern Ireland world-leading co-operative legislation.
We will be working closely with our members in Northern Ireland and experts to develop clear, beneficial and well-supported propositions for legislative reform.
Transfer of registry function to FCA
The transfer of the registry of industrial and provident societies away from Northern Ireland to the Financial Conduct Authority will take place on 6 April 2018. We know this transfer of service is unpopular with some of members in Northern Ireland who are concerned about issues such as the introduction of the FCA's annual fees and the detachment of the Canary Wharf-based FCA from the mutual economy in Northern Ireland.
Co-operatives UK continues to press for the transfer process to be smooth, clear and fair for societies.
We are leading a campaign to exempt Northern Ireland’s industrial and provident societies from having to pay the Financial Conduct Authority’s annual fees for first year.
The Department for the Economy's draft Industrial Strategy includes an emphasis on inclusive growth. We believe co-ops could and should play a significant role in driving inclusive growth.
We are currently in discussion with the Industrial Strategy team about how to develop it's inclusive growth agenda, with an emphasis on broadening economic agency, ownership and control.
If you are a member of Co-operatives UK in Northern Ireland please get involved with our policy work. Email our policy officer to get started.