Lambeth’s Cooperative Council and cooperative municipalism

Lots of participatory city innovations here in Lambeth (UK), which warrant a full copy of the commentary by Steve Reed in the Guardian:

(the original article has links to more Guardian reporting on the experiment)

“The Guardian has reported Lambeth’s ambition to become Britain’s first co-operative council. The proposals, part of a consultation launched this week, have grown from our experience of handing more control over services to residents after Labour won back the council from a Tory-Lib Dem coalition in 2006.

In housing, we support more tenant-managed estates than any other council, and the best of these deliver better housing management at lower cost. We opened the country’s first parent-promoted secondary school, Elmgreen, in West Norwood, and found it was so popular it became one of the most sought-after schools in the borough before it even opened.

On a tough, inner-city estate plagued by gang violence we helped the community set up a peer-mentoring scheme that won national awards after achieving the highest success rate in the country for preventing reoffending. We set up a local environmental scheme that hands local groups the tools to clear up patches of derelict land and turn them into community spaces, and can barely keep up with the demand. We handed a disused launderette to residents on a local estate and they turned it into a community building where they now run a hugely successful children’s centre. Time and again, local people showed us they want to get involved and, when they do, they deliver outstanding success.

What all these models have in common is a set of principles: fairness, accountability and responsibility. These are co-operative principles and they have a long tradition in the history of our country’s communities. Outcomes are fairer because services meet local needs better; the services become directly accountable to local people; and the new models differ fundamentally from what went before because of the responsibility that an empowered local community takes on. The model works differently in different localities and across different services, but the principles behind it remain the same.

Now, we want to see how far we can extend this model across public services in Lambeth. The consultation will identify a number of services where we can launch new pilots later in the year. As these pilots grow we will learn from them and apply the lessons as we roll out the co-operative model.

I believe this is an exciting moment for local government as we step up to the challenge of the looming cuts in public spending and people’s demand for more responsive public services. The Tories’ “easyCouncil” model, championed by Barnet council, means substandard services for most people with the wealthy few able to pay for “upgrades” to better quality. That is fundamentally unfair and in Lambeth we reject that two-tier, pay-twice Tory approach.

We also stand apart from David Cameron’s “Big Society” model that is really just about a smaller state. Lambeth’s alternative is more profound as we seek to reshape the settlement between the citizen and the state by empowering the community. It’s a bold and exciting agenda based on co-operative values that have been part of the Labour party since birth. I extend an invitation to the people of Lambeth and our friends beyond to join us as we explore how to protect public services and build a stronger civil society, not rolling back the state but changing its role for the better.”

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