Plunkett is really proud to be part of the Big Lottery Fund’s Village SOS campaign. Alongside partners Locality, ACRE and Co-operatives UK we have been running a UK wide advice line and series of events for rural communities looking to set up a wide range of community run enterprises. We’ve been truly inspired by the fantastic ideas for community enterprises that we’ve supported both through the helpline and at the roadshow events. There are many great examples on the Village SOS website and in previous editions of The Local, the Village SOS magazine.
Alongside the helpline and events, BIG has set up a dedicated funding programme that provides rural communities across the UK with the unique opportunity to access funding to turn an idea for a social enterprise into reality. There is now just one month left to apply for grants of between £10,000 and £50,000. Applications are welcomed from rural communities with populations of fewer than 3,000 people and must reach Village SOS by 2pm on 12 September.
Village SOS will fund rural communities who want to set up new community enterprises. It will also fund those who seek to expand or develop their existing rural community enterprises to provide even better facilities, services and opportunities for local people.
Village SOS has already supported many community run shops, cafes, pubs, transport schemes, community broadband and energy projects. All set up by local people who worked together to make a difference in their community. If you think you can make a difference to your community and have an enterprising plan, take the opportunity to apply to Village SOS for a grant.
To apply or for more information visit http://www.villagesos.org.uk or call the advice line on 0845 434 9123.
The recent SOS Dairy protests by farmers have followed a succession of painful price cuts from milk processors and downward pressure on prices from retailers. On 11 July the NFU held a dairy summit at Westminster where over 2,000 dairy farmers made their voices heard. At the summit Farming Minister Jim Paice MP announced that Defra would made support available to farmers looking to form ‘Producer Organisations’.
Very interesting we thought at Plunkett, an organisation that has spent most of our 93 years fighting for such support. From a Plunkett perspective, Producer Organisations sound very much like farmer co-operatives but the term has not been defined since the announcement. So we’ve started to ask ourselves the question – when is a Producer Organisation not a co-operative?
The reason for Defra announcing support for farmers to form Producer Organisations was to give farmers greater collective power in the milk market dominated by a small number of large processors and large retailers. They can clearly achieve increased power through setting up a new or joining an existing co-operative. This is because as a member you get a vote and a say in how it is run and co-operatives are run on the basis of one member one vote. You’re also able to achieve greater bargaining power through a co-op then you could do alone. For a farmer to have more power surely they need to have ownership of organisations representing them, control of what it does and benefit from its activities. If they don’t have ownership, then the voice of farmers is lessened and their ability to control and benefit from a Producer Organisation is weakened significantly.
So what else could a Producer Organisation be? If the producers are not going to be the owners of the Producer Organisation then is it that the term Producer Organisation also includes farmers coming together as a group for other players in the market – processors and retailers – to deal with in some way. If so then this sounds a lot like what already takes place for example through farmers individually securing direct supply contracts with a supermarket. While this may work out well for some individual farms, it doesn’t give farmers more power as they are subject to an individual contractual supply relationship which may not last any longer then the current contract. So we don’t think this is a Producer Organisation. Does anyone have any idea what else it could be?
So if Producer Organisations are all farmer co-operatives, why aren’t we calling them farmer co-operatives? Farmer co-operatives are hugely successful across the world and major players in the UK. When a co-operative like Dairy Farmers of Britain fails people in the UK often blame the fact that it is a co-operative. When a company fails people blame individual people and market forces rather than the company. There is a bad habit in the UK and England specifically of rebranding farmer co-operatives to the point where both farmers and the wider public have no idea what is being talked about. Co-operatives are and should be good for farmers in the UK and internationally because they are owned and controlled by them. Pretty simple really.
This week Plunkett and long term collaborators the Carnegie UK Trust launched Rural Broadband – Reframing the Debate, a joint paper aiming to bring a fresh view to the issue of rural broadband across the UK and Ireland. Having been part of numerous discussions on rural broadband in recent years, we strongly felt that there were two main elements missing from current thinking.
The first was that rural communities were not being inspired by the potential of high speed broadband. Saying that you can browse the internet slightly quicker is one thing but shouldn’t we really be highlighting the transformative effect that high speed broadband can have on rural people, rural services and rural economies?
The second element missing and one connected to the first point was the role of communities in addressing the digital divide. In our experience only a handful of rural communities feel able to try to tackle the digital divide themselves. Work need to be done to inspire communities to take action, to develop community enterprise models that are accessible to non specialists and to developed clearer, more connected forms of support.
The day after, the House of Lords Communications Committee published their report Broadband for all – an alternative vision. The Government will respond to the report in a couple of months which will make interesting reading. The report raised major concerns that the current plans for the UK risks leaving communities – particularly rural communities – behind.
We would agree with this. The current plan is for 90% of the UK to have access to high speed broadband with the remaining 10% having access to a minimum of 2MBPS broadband. As around 20% of people in the UK live in rural areas and presuming that high speed broadband is most likely to be available in places of higher population, by my calculations around half of people living in rural communities may only have access to basic broadband. Those living in the most remote rural areas are most likely to miss out.
We don’t believe that just basic broadband provision matches the aspirations of rural communities and therefore rural communities will need to be inspired by the possibilities high speed broadband opens up to take action themselves. Featured in the new paper are a few great examples of these, such as Cybermoor Ltd and B4RN – fantastic examples of communities doing just that.
We’re encouraging those interested in the rural broadband debate to be part of a broadband discussion group on the Fiery Spirits Community of Practice ably hosted by Daniel Heery of Cybermoor. The discussions will continue for a few months and we hope these can be used to help shape the ongoing discussions across the UK and Ireland on how to bring high speed broadband to rural communities.
The joint paper was the first in a series of Plunkett White Papers so keep an eye out for future ones!