Developing co-operative local government – Plymouth

Colleagues Cllr Barrie Taylor & Cllr Nilavra Mukerji with our hosts for the day Cllr Tudor Evans & Cllr Chris  from Plymouth Council

Colleagues Cllr Barrie Taylor & Cllr Nilavra Mukerji with our hosts for the day Cllr Tudor Evans & Cllr Chris Penberthy from Plymouth Council

During the August recess, l managed to pay a visit to Plymouth Council to see first-hand their efforts in running a Co-operative Council. My colleague, Councillor Barrie Taylor from Westminster made the arrangements following his commentary that “….political agendas in today’s world are dictated to by consumerist approach to decision making”.  So we set off to see how an alternative co-operative and collaborative set up would work.

Politicians know that it’s vital to obtain good value when spending public money, but merely focusing on efficiency ignores the need to include effectiveness (quality) in order to achieve a balanced judgement and decision. After all, local authorities are not corporate supermarket chains and it would be unwise to make this comparison, as many in the media continue to do, for example, in referring to Barnet council’s effort to cut services to the bone as “Easy” council. This clearly over looks the rationale behind the establishment of local authorities in the first place.

Plymouth City Council has a cabinet member, Councillor Chris Pemberthy.  His remit is Co-operatives & Community Development. The council does not pretend to have the answers to all issues but they do test their policies and contracts within arrangements that provide give back to the community. One of their initiatives is the Plymouth Energy Community.  This is an independent member organisation designed to save money for local people using face-to-face contact about the best energy deals. At the same time, it seeks to reinvest surpluses back into the membership company. Previously it was known as a mutual, worthy of inclusion as an added alternative to the directly consumerist model of decision making.  After visiting the Brixton Energy Co-operative in Lambeth earlier on the year, l was particularly glad to see that the council with Plymouth Energy Community has much less of a hurdle to jump in order to achieve its goals.