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The cooperative revolution in Edinburgh, Scotland

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
26th September 2013


Excerpted from a lecture by councillor Andrew Burns:

“The way different services in Edinburgh work, will – and does – vary, but the objective of finding new ways of working in partnership with local people will remain constant.

And over recent months, we have certainly not considered turning absolutely all services into co-operatives, and we certainly have not simply replaced skilled professionals with volunteers.

It has though been about giving local people a renewed sense of choice and control over the public services they use.

So – such a co-operative approach does put people much more at the centre of decision-making and provide the opportunity to develop new and imaginative ways of supporting communities, empowering people, delivering services and caring for public assets.

We are working to develop a new partnership with local people, in a radical bid to improve public services and strengthen local communities.

As I said earlier — instead of doing things to our communities, a ‘Co-operative Edinburgh Council’ will work with our communities to make sure local services meet the needs of local people.

It is marking the end of top-down services where residents are expected to put up with what’s on offer.

In essence, what Edinburgh’s new Coalition wanted to do was to start a process of radically transforming the way that services were planned, managed and delivered; and to move Edinburgh towards being a more ‘Co-operative Council’.

We want Council services to be transformed by shifting power; so that the Council is working much more ‘in partnership’ with the local people it is ultimately there to serve.
That’s obviously not going to happen overnight and it won’t apply to all of our Council’s services … but as evidence from elsewhere has proven, small beginnings can lead to a major transformation in service design and delivery … and, crucially, can lead to a real transformation in the relationship between the electorate and those elected and employed, to serve them.

This approach is about giving local people a refreshed sense of choice and control, over the public services they use.

A Contract with the Citizens

“As already mentioned, the outcome of last year’s local election in Edinburgh led to a local coalition between Labour and the SNP.
We agreed a clear set of some 53 commitments, in a new ‘Contract with the Capital’.

That contract was openly published, and within weeks, the ‘monitoring against delivery’ of our promises was live and very visible via the front-page of the main Council website … and continues to be so, with six-monthly reports going to Full Council Meetings.

But the delivery of those promises can’t be a one-way street, there has to be an on-going, two-way dialogue, with residents, about their role in just what their Council does for the remaining 4-years.

That new approach to the way we work, and the way we engage with others, has included some definite actions in making the vision of a cooperative council a reality:

1. We have established the first Petitions Committee, and petitions process, in Edinburgh. That Committee is Chaired by a Member of Edinburgh’s Opposition Green Group. This has all helped enable local residents to have an additional channel to raise issues of concern, with their elected representatives, and directly with the Council.

2. We have completely overhauled our scrutiny function; and established a new Governance, Risk and Best Value Committee; again Chaired by a Member of Edinburgh’s Opposition Conservative Group.

3. We have also completely revised our budgetary process, which has led to the publication of a draft budget – for the first time in decades, in Edinburgh. We published that draft budget in November last year, and for this upcoming 2014/15 Budget we’re actually publishing our draft next Friday allowing a full 3-months of public consultation prior to this Christmas, and the eventual setting of the final budget in February.

4. We’ve also created a renewed focus on neighbourhoods and communities within our decision-making structures, and ‘worked-up’ proposals for the next stage in the development of our Neighbourhood Partnerships (Neighbourhood Committees) will be put before the Full Council for debate and decision just next month.

5. We’ve also ensured direct, parental representation within our Education’ decision-making processes, by placing a Parental Rep. on our main Education Committee, with the same voting-rights as any other Member on that Committee.

6. And last – but by no means least – we’re webcasting (both live and archived) all of our Full Council Meetings, and an increasing number of our regular Committee Meetings. The cumulative impact of all these considered-changes has been fairly significant … and we have re-gained some degree of trust and a renewed sense of engagement with residents;

Six Key Themes

To date, we have identified six key themes we are progressing as part of our co-operative approach, these are:

(i) co-operative societies – we’ve established a Co-operative Development Unit to ensure the delivery of more energy, child care, social care and housing services in the city … I’ll say a bit more about each of these in a second

(ii) co-operative community engagement – refreshing and revitalising our committees and arrangements to place communities at the heart of decision making

(iii) co-operative procurement – integrating community benefit clauses into contracts and deploying public social partnerships to design services

(iv) co-operative education – further improving our work on parental and community co-operation with schools and encouraging more co-operation amongst school clusters and

(v) co-operative services – generally; doing what we can to place service-users at the heart of service design and service delivery.

(vi) co-operative Corporate Social Responsibility – seeking a commitment from businesses to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as the local community and society at large…

Four Action Domains: Childcare · Social Care · Energy · Housing

(An example:) Childcare and Education

We have established an SLA with LAYC to support the Out of School Care sector, to identify and help those who wish to transition to co-operative status. One club has applied to the Co-operative Enterprise Hub and the process involved with this club will provide a road map for others wishing to change their governance arrangements.

There is substantial interest from clubs in the development of strategies for mutual collaboration and co-operation including the development of a “co-operative charter.” The Co-operative Education Trust is working with the Broughton Cluster of schools to develop an action plan that will include transition activities based on co-operative principles, values and practices between nursery, primary and secondary schools.”

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