Building a collaborative economy

Picture by Philip Hollis for Future Friendly awards. 24-8-10 CLEANSTREAM CARPETS. Porth. South Wales. Pic shows: Becky Lythgoe, Mark Wilson, Peter Smith and Troy and Vicky in the warehouse
Employees at Greenstream, a carpet re-use business based in the Welsh valleys

The collaborative economy

A report due to be presented to the Welsh Assembly in November and commissioned by the Wales Co-operative Centre will set out a vision for a Collaborative Economy approach, which it hopes will form the blueprint for a new economic and regeneration strategy for Wales.

Author of the report Pat Conaty describes the Collaborative Economy as a way to unite the various strands of the social and co-operatives sectors through collaborative and partnership-focused policies.

‘A step change is needed,’ he said. ‘The concept of the collaborative economy is to get the boats moving in the same direction.’

The report recommends the development of social and community co-operatives in areas such as re-cycling, energy, housing and social care as a focus for economic development and public service reform. In particular it calls for social businesses and co-operatives to be linked together in consortia – enabled by local government – to provide mutual support and help new initiatives get off the ground.

It cites the experience of Emilia Romagna in northern Italy, where the local authorities began working with the co-operative sector in the 1970s to help the development of co-operative consortia in local industries from food processing to construction and social care. The co-operative sector now accounts for more than one third of regional GDP and has been a stabilising factor in the regional economy.

The Collaborative Economy report highlights the emergence of public-social partnerships across Wales in recent years, particularly in the area of housing.

In 2012 the Welsh government joined forces with local housing organisations to pilot new co-operative and mutual forms of housing, with eight projects identified. Co-operative housing has now been included in a number of developments across the country including the West Rhyl community land trust.

The development of social financing is needed to make the collaborative economy a reality and the report calls for a joint strategy to expand CDFIs in Wales and a mutual housing fund for the country.

Conaty believes the opportunity is there for Wales to transform its local economy through the development of social and co-operative networks and businesses. Since the recession the number of new co-operatives in the UK has grown by 26%, but despite their English and Welsh roots, co-operatives are accounting for much higher levels of GDP in European countries outside the UK.

A drive towards greater collaboration between social enterprises, co-operatives and the public sector could see the UK, and Wales in particular, take back its position as a pioneer of community and co-operative action at the heart of local economies.

Clare Goff is editor of New Start magazine
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