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31 Jan 2003 : Column 1136—continued

11.12 am

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): I am a member of the Co-operative group of Members of Parliament and I am very pleased to support this very important Bill. I add my congratulations to those paid to my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) on bringing the Bill before the House. As he said in his initial comments, it is about taking co-operation forward and building on the co-operative movement, which has achieved so much and become such a fundamental part of our society.

I see this Bill as an opportunity to move us into the future and to build on all that is good in co-operation. Co-operation in essence is about people working together to provide goods or services that benefit members or the community on the basis of mutual support or ownership. That is extremely important and has been a fundamental contributor to what is good in our society. Co-operation has a very fine history. Many are aware of its importance to production, retail services, agriculture, banking, finance, housing, funeral provision, and more recently, as hon. Members have said, to the wide range of social clubs.

Co-operation is part of a movement. When co-operatives were first developed in strength they were seen as the beginning of a co-operative commonwealth—a new society where the values of mutuality and self-help were central. The co-operative movement is a proud part of the Labour movement, but

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its virtues are so self-evident that they are supported and, indeed, adopted by those well outside those confines. Indeed, judging from the comments this morning of the hon. Members for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) and for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), we are all co-operators now.

One area in which co-operation has been distinguished and has a great future is finance. The successes of credit unions are well known. They are an excellent example of applying loans on the basis of self-help and mutual support without exploitation. Over the past few years, credit unions have grown considerably in number from 73,000 in 1992 to 220,000 in 1999, although we still have a long way to go. It has already been clearly shown that credit unions make a great contribution to individuals' well-being and to dealing with social exclusion. Indeed, they are a vital part of regeneration.

I want to draw particular attention to the Co-operative bank as a fine example of co-operation—working for individuals, proving that it is a commercial success and leading the way in the development of our communities and society. I pay tribute particularly to its former chief executive, Terry Thomas, who is now a Member of the other place. During his tenure at the Co-operative bank, he began what has become commonplace in banking but was unusual and revolutionary in its time: ethical banking. The Co-operative bank led the way, showing that banking could be commercially successful while at the same time responsible to the community as a whole.

Moving on from ethical banking, the Co-operative bank took a lead in working with business, in particular to improve the environment. It set up the first business environment centre in the country when establishing its organisation in Manchester some years ago. The bank is a fine example of co-operation, showing how the co-operative movement combines individual need, self-help, mutuality and commercial success, leading the community forward on the basis of those values.

Several hon. Members have mentioned the importance of the growing social enterprise sector. That is one area where the Bill will have particular relevance. It is highlighting the importance of mutuality to production, enterprise, people working together and to meeting community need. There are particular examples of social enterprise in Liverpool that have national significance. In developing the provision of furniture particularly for poorer people, in providing training and now in developing Bulky Bob's in recycling, not just in Liverpool but in London and other areas of the country, the furniture resource centre has shown the importance of social enterprise and individual initiative.

It is in Liverpool, too, that another body vital to the development of social enterprise is already working successfully. I refer to the Merseyside special investment fund, which was set up in 1996 as an experiment in how the private sector could work with objective 1 funds to develop business in the Merseyside area. In the five years that have passed, it has invested £32 million, attracted another £88 million and supported 600 businesses and 5,000 jobs. What is most significant is that only a few months ago it set up a new loan fund, initially of £2 million, and it is ready to lend between £3,000 and £100,000 not to conventional businesses but particularly

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to community-based businesses. It anticipates that over the next few years it will be supporting 80 such community-based businesses, involving 1,000 jobs.

I find it highly significant that the successful Merseyside investment fund, which started in Liverpool and is now working with objective 1 areas throughout the United Kingdom, regards as important the opening of a new fund that is directed especially towards community-based businesses. That is a clear indication of the importance of social enterprise and community business. I am sure that the fund will work with the already established Phoenix fund and local investment funds, as well as Business in the Community and the funds in which it is involved. The Bill is an important element in giving more support to the social enterprise movement and community businesses in general as they develop.

The work of the Eldonians in the Vauxhall area of Liverpool is well known. Indeed, they are hailed in this country and throughout Europe as a fine example of co-operative enterprise that considers both individual ventures and community regeneration. Their successes include housing, care for young and older people, sports facilities, and wider regeneration activities in the Vauxhall area. I hope that the current discussion of schools' reorganisation in Vauxhall will take account of the excellent work being done by the Eldonians. The Bill is directly relevant to the work of such groups.

The Bill is important because it marks a new and significant stage in the development of co-operation. It is about protecting assets, thus helping the work of community-based organisations to proceed more smoothly and supporting those who want that part of the sector to expand. The value of co-operation and the co-operative movement has already been shown by its direct achievements and the direct support that its has attracted. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire on bringing the Bill to the House. In years to come, it will be seen as another staging post in the growing success of co-operation, and the growing acceptance and recognition by the whole of our society of the fact that co-operation is a vital part of our economic progress, based on the everlasting values of mutuality and community benefit.

11.22 am

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): Like other hon. Members, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) on obtaining first place in the ballot and on his choice of subject for his private Member's Bill. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman), I am a member of the Co-operative group of MPs, and I am delighted to support the Bill.

By building on the improvements made last year, the Bill extends into public services. This week, I met groups of constituents who are extremely concerned about council housing and what might happen to them in the light of changes in ownership. They want to know from whom they will be renting properties in future. Developing other forms of organisation such as housing co-operatives, and ensuring that such organisations enjoy greater security, will enable more people in local communities to have greater confidence when changing from state and local authority ownership to locally

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owned organisations. In delivering public services, it is vital that people do not feel that they are being "done to", but feel empowered to be more involved in the delivery of the services that they receive.

One sector in which co-operatives have started to develop is care services. Having worked in social care for many years, I am especially interested in the sector. In September, I visited the Willows residential home in Codsall, which is part of the West Midlands co-operative society. I was impressed by the home, but asked myself whether it was merely well run, or whether it was different because it was a co-operative. As I talked to the staff, it became clear to me that the values that are at the heart of co-operatives make a real difference to staff teamwork, their investment of their time in the home, the training that they receive and the qualifications that they are able to gain. Furthermore, the residents feel confident in the home and its future because it is a co-operative.

In my view, residential care should not be the only service that is provided in the co-operative way. Much of our debate on care of the elderly focuses on residential and nursing homes, but most elderly people want to stay in their own home, and if they need care, they want that care to be provided in their home. I was encouraged to learn that the West Midlands co-operative society is already considering both the provision of care through short stays in the care home, to enable people to recover from illness, and how to ensure that after the short stay, when the person returns to their own home, domiciliary care can be provided. In that way, if people become so disabled that they need permanent residential care, they will already be familiar with the home and the people who will care for them there. That is an extremely beneficial model of care.

Co-operatives can provide such services better than private organisations, not only because they recognise the benefit of providing through care, but because of the values that are at the very heart of co-operation—the social values that co-operatives hold dear, the investment of surpluses to build service quality and capacity rather than generate profit, and the drive to engage and empower service users. The residents of the home that I visited were seen as partners in provision—care was not simply given to them; they were asked about how they wanted the care to be provided and they were involved in the running of the home. The West Midlands co-operative society is examining ways of involving other stakeholders—families and other interested parties in the community—in discussions about the way in which care is provided.

Co-operation is about engaging and empowering people—engaging communities in service development and management, and in monitoring and sustaining provision. For me, the heart of the process of providing services in a co-operative way is the long-term commitment to sustainable local provision. It is not about going in, providing a service and continuing to do so only as long as it delivers a profit. Especially in the sustained provision of services to vulnerable people, only that long-term commitment can provide the security that both services users and communities seek. I am delighted to be here to support the Bill on Second Reading.

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