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Written Statement  - Response to the Welsh Government Co-operative and Mutuals Commission Report

Edwina Hart, Minister for Economy, Science and Transport
On 21 February, I launched the Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals Commission report and announced a consultation on its recommendations.

In addition to an on-line survey, consultation events were held at venues in North, South and West Wales.

The evidence gathered demonstrates that co-operatives and mutuals can create jobs, improve educational attainment and reduce inequality.  The report recognises the benefits of developing the Welsh Co-operative and Mutuals economy in Wales.  I will be accepting those recommendations that fall within my portfolio.

The report recommends that the provision of business advice and support to encourage the formation and development of co-operative and mutual should be significantly strengthened. I will continue to provide funding to specialist business support organisations in Wales, to enable them to support the development of new co-operatives and mutuals. I will also be providing funding to the Wales Co-operative Centre to lead on the development of specialist business support for the sector, which will include support for growth and the development of specific sectors with growth potential, succession planning, and collaborative and consortia work specifically around procurement.

As recommended in the report, work is already underway with the sector, utilising the Business Wales platform to establish a web-based portal to provide appropriate advice and support for proposed and established co-operatives and mutuals.

The report recommends that the capacity for research, strategy and policy on the cooperative and mutual economy needs to be increased and building intelligence about the sector is required to develop more robust benchmarks. I have asked my officials to consider these recommendations and the fit with the future voice of the social enterprise sector in Wales. I will also be strengthening the representation of the co-operative and mutual business models on the Business Wales Strategic Board and the Entrepreneurship Panel to feed into advice provided to me and to represent the sector.

The Commission noted that we should ensure that the Innovation Wales strategy fully embraces the importance of co-operatives, and I have asked my officials to consider this and reflect within the work of the team and future strategies.

There are specific recommendations on investment finances within the report that fall within my portfolio and I will be providing further detail on these recommendations as work progresses.

Encouragingly, the co-operative and mutual sector itself is also playing its part in taking forward the recommendations.  The Wales Co-operative Centre and Co-operatives UK are already identifying and promoting specific sectors with growth potential and on 1 July Co-operatives UK will launch the first of a series of reports on this.

A number of the recommendations within the report fall outside my portfolio.  These have been considered by the appropriate Ministers and have been received positively. 

The Finance Minister has recognised that joint and collaborative bidding can be invaluable in enabling smaller, third sector firms and co-operatives to enter the public sector market. The Joint Bidding Guide, developed by Value Wales in conjunction with the WCVA and Wales Co-operative Centre, was launched in October 2013.  The guide is aimed at clients and contractors to promote consortium bidding as a way of providing greater access to public sector contracts for smaller businesses and third sector organisations. 

Procurement policy in Wales will reflect Article 20 of the new EU Procurement Directives which will enable Member states to reserve contracts for sheltered workshops and economic operators whose main aim is the social and professional integration of disabled and disadvantaged persons. The Minister has also expressed an interest in exploring the potential for establishing a pilot project to demonstrate the potential of public procurement to develop co-operatives and mutual in Wales.

The Minister for Culture and Sport and Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty are in discussions about the feasibility of implementing the Assets of Community Measures as contained in the Localism Act 2011. 

The Minister for Culture and Sport will be writing to all local authorities in Wales urging them, when considering cuts to the provision of leisure facilities, to fully explore alternatives such as collaborative and innovative solutions.  Some local authorities are exploring greater community ownership of facilities through asset transfer to community groups. Communities will have the opportunity to have a greater say in the future of local sport and leisure facilities or clubs and support the sustainability of such clubs or facilities that are regarded as community assets. .  The Community Land Trust movement and Community Land Trust network are fully engaged in the work that the Minister for Housing and Regeneration is undertaking to deliver co-operative housing as a further housing choice for people in Wales. 

The Minister for Education and Skills  has confirmed that he wants a co-operative ethos to be one of the central organising principles running through all parts of the education system in Wales. Professor Donaldson will be considering this in the context of the wide ranging independent review of the curriculum that he is undertaking, due to be submitted in early 2015.

The new Welsh Baccalaureate being introduced in 2015 is focussed around four challenges that will enable learners to develop skills and understanding that reflect many of the co-operative values and principles. Education officials are working closely with the Wales Co-operative Centre to develop a challenge for learners to undertake as part of their studies.

The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales will be sharing the final recommendations of the Commission with universities in Wales.

These actions reflect a cross Government approach to taking forward the recommendations.  Work has already begun and is ongoing. The recommendations form an ambitious but achievable programme which will form the basis of a refresh of the Social Enterprise Action Plan commencing this autumn. I will provide a further update in the autumn.