Here is some of what we have been up to on policy at Plunkett over the last month. 

Important steps forward for community investment

Three significant steps forward have been taken for community investment in the past month.

Firstly, we’re delighted to say that Plunkett Scotland will be working alongside friends at Development Trusts Association Scotland and the Community Shares Unit on Community Shares Scotland, a new service just announced to support the development of community shares in Scotland. This services is being fund by the Big Lottery Fund Scotland and the Carnegie UK Trust.

Secondly, on 6th April, the withdrawable share capital limit for co-operatives was increased from £20,000 per individual to £100,000. This is the first time for a long time that this limit has been reviewed. We’re going to be producing some guidance on this as while it is good news for community shares and other co-operatives in need of capital, this will need to be balanced with ensuring genuine community-ownership and democratic control.

On the same day the new Social Investment Tax Relief came into force providing 30% tax relief on investments in Community Benefit Societies, Community Interest Companies and Charities. The Community Shares Unit and HMRC are producing some guidance on this. As with all schemes incentivising investment, there are some excluded trades. For example, with Enterprise Investment Scheme tax relief there is a block exclusion on agricultural production and some co-operative pubs run by tenants are excluded too. SITR has less exclusions but these two still apply but we’re working with the Government and others to see if this can be looked at again. 

Continued spotlight on co-operatives

The Co-operative Group has remained in the spotlight during the month. Different people within the movement are reacting in different ways. Ed Mayo, as always, has been a constant source of wise, calm words throughout. Read his blog here [http://edmayo.wordpress.com/]. A degree of conflict is healthy for any co-operative and there is their fair share of this happening. The big discussions are focusing around reforming governance and improving their competitiveness and the impact this could have on the ethical stance of the co-op. As Ed said on Radio 4’s Today Programme, it isn’t a choice between ethics or competitiveness; they make great long term partners.

Raise a glass to Community Pubs Month

April is the Campaign for Real Ale’s Community Pubs Month. It’s great to begin the month with both a record number of co-operative pubs open and trading as well as a number of new co-operative pubs expected to open within the month. Community Pubs Month is a great opportunity to recognise the role that pubs play in communities, particularly from a Plunkett perspective those that are owned and run by communities. It’s also a great excuse to push for greater recognition and support.

Here is our short wish list to help communities set up and run co-operative pubs:

  • Strengthen Asset of Community Value power in England. We back CAMRA’s call for pubs that are registered to trigger the removal of permitted development rights that allow pubs to convert to shops, offices and restaurants. We’d also like ACV nominations to supersede other provisions, like Unilateral Notices which if exist, can render an ACV nomination powerless.
  • We’d like to see Local Authorities review their attitude to risk when considering using the powers at their disposal to help communities protect pubs. For example, using Article 4 directions to remote permitted development rights, using the powers available through Sustainable Communities Act or in some situations Compulsory Purchase Orders. Communities ready, willing and able to take over their local are being prevented from doing so at times due to Local Authority concerns about compensation claims.
  • 350 pubs are now registered as Assets of Community Value, far more than any other type of asset. We’d like to see far greater promotion and awareness of the ability to register pubs and other assets at an earlier stage, rather than being used as a way of reacting to the threat of a pub closing or being sold.
  • Reviewing the length of the ‘protected period’. 6 months isn’t enough for many communities and extending this or the ability to trigger an extension would help more communities to be able to take over their local.
  • Separate asset class for pubs, ensuring that if plans exist to convert to anything else, the owner needs to apply for planning permission.

Plunkett joins the Localism Alliance

Plunkett has joined forces with a small number of organisations like Supporters Direct, CAMRA, NALC, Civic Voice and the Theatres Trust to promote how communities can save what is important to them through the new community rights in England. Find out more here.

I hope you have a good month ahead.

Mike

 

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Spotlight on co-operatives

Recent events at the Co-operative Group have been the focus of attention in the co-operative movement.  Despite this news, the other 6,000 co-operatives in the UK continue as normal serving their members.  We shouldn’t forget despite recent events how the co-operative economy has continually outstripped the wider economy since 2007 and good co-operative news happens on a daily basis!

At Plunkett we’re proud to work with so many communities setting up and running co-operatives of different forms.  In the past few weeks we’ve seen community shops and co-operative pubs opening, communities celebrating successful community share issues and others preparing to open their new co-op.  Plunkett has recently completed our annual survey of community shops, the findings of which will be launched during Community Shops Fortnight (14 – 29 June).  We’ve also completed the first ever survey of the growing co-operative pub movement.  We’ll be launching the findings during Camra’s Community Pub Month in April.

The Welsh Government published their Report of the Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission late last month which Plunkett contributed to.  It was great to see Plunkett’s work, particularly which focused on saving shops and pubs as co-operatives, recognised alongside our expertise on community share issues.

Rural development plans being shaped

Really important decisions are being finalised on the delivery of European rural development funding across the UK, Ireland and Europe.  See Defra’s response to their Community Agricultural Policy consultation for example.  Plunkett has been busy responding to consultations and calls for evidence and more or less we’ve said at each point:

  • Community-owned and controlled enterprises have grown significantly in importance in rural communities as a way of responding to the challenges communities face.  Community Led Local Development (an EU term..) is critical for supporting this development.
  • Business grants and training and skills development needs to be available for and open to the needs of community-owned enterprises operating and setting up in rural areas.
  • Opportunities provided by the EU framework to support smaller farm business and new younger farmer are much needed and should be taken.
  • There is a significant need to support farm businesses to better use and understand how co-operatives can improve their livelihoods.

Plunkett worked with the Defra Social Enterprise Strategic Partnership and a small number of Local Enterprise Partnerships in England to explore the potential for LEPs to support the development of rural social enterprises to help deliver their objectives.  The findings of the report provided a very clear view that social enterprises have significant potential to both contribute towards job creation and growth whilst also delivering on key challenges LEPs have been tasked with, such as social inclusion.  Read the short report here.

If you care about these things and still have the opportunity, make your voice heard either directly or if you’re a Plunkett member, through us.

Growing Livelihoods

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on the right to food Olivier de Shutter published his final report on the right to food this month.  His report says that the global food system is failing because it’s making people in rich countries ill through bad diets while over 800m people go without food each day.  His proposals include calling for the end to public subsidies favouring ever larger entities in the food system whether these are farms, processors or retailers.  He recommended rebuilding local food systems through targeted support for smaller farms and the development of the infrastructure required to serve local markets.

At Plunkett we’ve been involved in this type of work for much our 95 years, whether this is through helping smaller farms to work together to improve livelihoods through co-operatives or through supporting communities to save and build local food systems through our support for community-owned shops, community food enterprises and local food systems.

It was timely then that Plunkett ran a Growing Livelihoods roundtable discussion during the month with long term collaborators the Carnegie UK Trust and the LSA Charitable Trust that focused on exploring how smaller scale food growing using co-operative approaches can provide good livelihoods for people.

At the meeting we were able to talk about the pioneering work of the Land Settlement Association, a pioneering scheme set up in 1934 that did just that and it is something Plunkett is proud to have been involved in establishing.  Keep an eye out for how this project develops over coming months.  Find out more about Growing Livelihoods here.

I hope you have a good month ahead.

Here is a update on policy issues that I’ve got involved with over the past month at Plunkett. We get involved in policy work with the aim of helping rural communities to be better able to set up and run a range of community co-operatives.

I represented the Woodland Social Enterprise Network (which now has a logo!), a growing network of organisations and individuals with an interest in woodlands and social enterprise, at the National Forestry Forum for the first time.  Plunkett provides the secretariat for this network that celebrated its first anniversary in December. At the meeting the Defra Minister Dan Rogerson presented their Forestry and Woodland Statement one year on report which included three references to the work the Woodland Social Enterprise Network has undertaken during the year.

Woodland Social Enterprise NetworkNetwork members have achieved some amazing things during the year. Communities have undertaken community share issues to buy woodland.  Public sector woodland management staff have spun out of the public sector to form a social enterprise.  The first woodland has been registered as an Asset of Community Value.  Network members are undertaking research into woodland social enterprises for the Forestry Commission.  Above all, we’re all talking and sharing which can only be a good thing.  If you’re interested in joining the mailing list for the network, please email me on mike.perry@plunkett.co.uk.

Since our Co-operative Pubs Advice Line was launched in March last year, at Plunkett we have received more enquiries from communities trying to set up a co-operative pub than any other community enterprise.  A number of these face some serious challenges trying to save their beloved local.  In England communities can register pubs as Assets of Community Value with their local council as 300 communities have now done.  But sometimes this isn’t enough.  As recent CAMRA research has shown, increasing numbers of pubs are being converted into supermarkets as this is currently permitted development.  Councils have the power to use Article 4 directions to restrict these permitted development but few are willing to use them due to concerns from the local authority that they will be liable for a compensation claim.  We, CAMRA and others are looking at ways that councils can mitigate this risk, perhaps by national government establishing a fund that councils can use for compensation if a claim arises.  In reality compensation is rarely paid but the existence of a fund would help councils to take a few more risks to help communities to save what is important to them. Since the start of the year a number of communities have been able to complete the purchase of their local, two with the help of capital grants from Social Investment Business.

Plunkett Scotland responded to the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill consultation which has now closed.  We believe communities are best place to make the right decision on issues affecting them.  We therefore responded to say that the Scottish Government need to make it easier and simpler for communities to take on land and assets.  We also responded to say that other legal forms, particularly co-operatives and community benefit societies should be considered as legitimate legal forms to trigger powers like the Community Right to Buy.  Without this, communities are prevented from using a powerful tool to raise capital – community shares.

Back to Defra. Plunkett and the Defra Social Enterprise Strategic Partnership presented to a group of rural Local Economic Partnerships at Defra.  Some knew a lot about social enterprise, some knew a bit and to some social enterprise wasn’t well known.  It was a great session and those attending went away inspired after a range of people talked passionately about why social enterprise matters. We’re hopeful that Local Economic Partnerships will see the value in supporting social enterprises with the European Structural and Investment Funds which will be heading their way this year.

If you’d like to know more about Plunkett’s policy work drop me an email on mike.perry@plunkett.co.uk.

My New Year’s resolution is to blog more often! 2013 was a busy year where lots of work went in to longer term issues.  Here is an update from me on current issues.  If anybody would like to chat to me about Plunkett’s policy work which aims to help make it easier to set up and run rural co-operatives, drop me an email on mike.perry@plunkett.co.uk.

The New Year has started with a flurry of consultation deadlines.  Across Europe rural development programmes are gradually becoming clearer with the amount being transferred from direct payments to farmers to rural development programmes being agreed. The lowest rate of transfer is 7% (Northern Ireland) and the highest is Wales (15%) with Scotland (9.5%) and England (12%) taking the middle ground. These rates have direct impacts on the level of farm payments and the level of funding available for rural development, including what is being called Community Led Local Development such as LEADER.

In Scotland, time is running out to respond to the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill which is looking at ways of strengthening community empowerment. Plunkett will be responding to this and I’d be keen to hear views from any Plunkett members.

In England Local Economic Partnerships have submitted their draft EU Structural and Investment Funds Strategies, documents which outlines European structural funding (including some Rural Development Programme funding) for the period 2014-2020. It is great to see social enterprise being included in the draft strategies of all LEPs and from a Plunkett perspective we’re speaking to LEPs about the potential of social enterprise creating jobs and growth in rural areas while at the same time addressing issues relating to social inclusion.

The Welsh Government has announced a £10m capital fund to support projects to tackle poverty. Good news for the increasing number of rural communities in Wales looking to set up and run community enterprises as a way of addressing rural poverty.

Lastly, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have announced a £10m pot to pilot alternative broadband technologies in order to reach those hardest to reach in remote rural areas of the UK. Community-led broadband will undoubtedly play a significant role in reaching communities that others cannot.

In case you missed announcements from late last year…

Long awaited updated to co-operative legislation in the UK welcomed by Plunkett and the co-operative sector.

Cracking news for communities in England! In December the Big Lottery Fund announced a £150m fund for community led enterprises which will be up and running by the Autumn.

The Government has published its response to the Social Investment Tax Relief consultation that Plunkett responded.

The government consultation on business names closes tomorrow.

The word ‘co-operative’ is currently on the ‘sensitive words’ list for new business, meaning that a new businesses registering cannot call themselves a co-operative unless they meet internationally agreed co-operative values and principles.

You have one more day (deadline 22 May) to respond to the consultation.  There is a risk if sufficient responses are not received that this protection could be removed and any business could call themselves ‘co-operative’ without actually being one.  Plunkett is therefore supporting the Co-operatives UK campaign to protect the word ‘co-operative’.

As an organisation originally called the Horace Plunkett Foundation for Co-operative Studies we care passionately about this issue.  If you also do, and you haven’t responded already, now is your last chance.  The Co-operatives UK consultation response can be read here.

Respond here – https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/company-and-business-names-red-tape-challenge

 

 

 

Last week the International Co-operative Alliance published the ‘Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade’. The purpose of the document is to harness the energy generated during the UN International Year of Co-operatives 2012 and inspire the international co-operative movement to make significant steps forward by 2020.

We’re pleased that the final Blueprint has incorporated key themes, challenges and actions that were identified in the Dunsany Declaration for Rural Co-operative Development.

The co-operative movement is setting its sights high.

By 2020, the international co-operative movement aims to be:

•    The acknowledged leader in economic, social and environmental sustainability
•    The model preferred by people
•    The fastest growing form of enterprise

Why are co-operatives important to rural communities across the world? This extract from the Blueprint neatly sums it up.

“In the midst of this uncertainty and suffering, co-operatives can provide some hope and clarity of direction for citizens around the world. Uniquely amongst models of enterprise, co-operatives bring economic resources under democratic control. The co-operative model is a commercially efficient and effective way of doing business that takes account of a wider range of human needs, of time horizons and of values in decision making. It is an approach which works on a very small, and on a very large scale. The co-operative sector is worldwide, providing millions of jobs around the globe. Co-operatives develop individual participation, can build personal self-confidence and resilience, and create social capital. Co-operative institutions create long-term security; they are long-lasting, sustainable and successful.”

As the document states, rarely has the argument in favour of co-operatives looked stronger.

This week we published the final report for the Making Local Food Work programme which Plunkett has led since 2007.

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I’m really proud of what Making Local Food Work has achieved and I know this is the same for everyone involved in it at Plunkett and our partners CPRE, Co-operatives UK, Country Markets, FARMA, the Soil Association and Sustain.
It has been a force for good, giving a helpful hand to the community food sector at a time when the sector needed confidence.
The headlines are that it directly supported 1,600 community food enterprises to be more sustainable.  It helped over 7,250 producers, over 10,000 volunteers and 6,600 employees.  Through this it helped 3.8 million people have better access to and awareness of local food.  It’s been a great success which you can read about here.
But it’s more than just the numbers, Making Local Food Work helped the sector gain momentum.  And it’s great to see that the momentum developed in the community food world in recent years shows no signs of slowing down.  For example, in another recent report, the Economic Impact of Community Food Enterprises, we demonstrated that the community food enterprise sector has doubled in size from 2007 to 2012.
As a quote in the report says, “A huge amount of effort has gone into assessing the impact the programme has had over the past five years which, combined, forms the single simple fact that the local food world is a better place for Making Local Food Work”. I agree!