The Co-operative Party
Gareth has been Chair of the Co-operative Party since 2000. If you would like to find out more about the Co-operative Party, you can find more information on their website.
Below is a selection of articles relating to the Co-operative Party.
19.03.15- Gareth Thomas MP, comments on co-operative party policy currently being considered by Labour, which would ensure the low paid benefit from economic growth as part of legislation that would affect about 53% of people in the UK.
Gareth Thomas MP suggests says that British companies are in a stronger financial position than they have been for years, yet private sector wages are rising at only 2.1%, according to the ONS, half the rate before the crisis. Read the full article here.
03.02.15- Gareth Thomas MP argues that the housing crisis could be fixed if we let Housing Associations borrow form local people.
Gareth Thomas MP suggests that a change in the law would allow mutuals to raise capital bonds to build affordable housing. To read the full article, click here.
28.12.14- Gareth Thomas MP explores whether it is time for a new super ombudsman to give greater transparency and power to consumers
Gareth Thomas MP explores whether it is time for a new super ombudsman. To read the full article, click here.
21.12.14- Gareth Thomas MP argues that Londoners should have more control of Transport for London
Gareth Thomas MP sets out the arguments for the reform of Transport for London. To read the full article, click here.
08.12.14- Gareth Thomas MP questions whether it is time for a London Housing Company to build more co-operative housing
Gareth Thomas MP discusses the need for a London Housing Company to build more co-operative housing. To read his recent article on the subject, click here.
13.10.14- Gareth Thomas MP leads calls to treble credit union membership
Gareth Thomas MP leads calls to treble credit union membership and for the creation of a military credit union. To read his recent article on the subject, click here.
08.10.14- Co-Operative Party to lead push to treble credit union membership
Gareth Thomas MP, Chair of the Co-Operative Party, is to use his speech at the Co-Operative Party's annual conference to call for a drive to increase credit union membership. You can read the full article here.
07.10.14- Labour MP's to demand greater pension security
Co-operative MP's are proposing that the pension industry should be opened up to greater scrutiny to give savers a chance to influence investment decisions. Gareth Thomas MP, Chair of the Co-Operative Party, said "we need to make the pensions and savings industry more accountable to those who invest their funds over the long term". You can read the full article here.
25.09.14- Address to Labour Party Conference
Gareth Thomas MP delivered his speech as the Chair of the Co-operative Party to this years Labour Party Conference in Manchester, you can read the full text of his speech here.
12.09.14- "Co-operative capital: Creating a city that works for Londoners"
Gareth Thomas MP has co-edited a pamphlet called "Co-operative capital: Creating a city that works for Londoners". The pamphlet is a collection of essays suggesting co-operative solutions to London's problems. To read more click here.
20.02.2014 - "The Co-operative movement's political voice is crucial"
Read more here.
18.12.2013 - Gareth Thomas MP: We need a credit union for the armed forces
Gareth Thomas MP has a ten minute rule motion today which seeks to create a credit union for the armed forces, who are increasingly turning to payday loans.
Read Gareth's commentary piece here.
10.12.2013 - Co-operatives and Mutuals
Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op):
At the outset, let me declare that I am one of the 6 million ordinary members of the Co-op Group. I have accounts with Nationwide, and belong to the M for Money credit union in Harrow and the Rainbow Saver credit union. I am privileged to chair the Co-operative party and to be one of its MPs in this great House.
Unusually, the co-operative movement has been in the news on a sustained basis of late. Absent from much of the coverage has been any sense of the powerful contribution co-operatives and mutuals make in our communities. They could and should, with the right support, make even more of a difference, and it is on that point that I shall focus.
It would be wrong not to acknowledge the challenges faced by the biggest UK co-operative, the Co-op Group. I welcome the progress the group board and its new management team, led by Euan Sutherland, have made in addressing the problems the Co-op bank faces. There are, no doubt, long-term lessons to be drawn, not least on the checks necessary for those in key positions and on how mutuals raise finance. Other reviews and inquiries will focus on those issues, so I will not dwell on them.
The co-operative movement has had its challenges: wartime discrimination by the Government in the first world war over call-up arrangements; Neville Chamberlain’s efforts to get the Co-op divis axed in the 1930s; and, more latterly, the Thatcherite demutualisation of building societies and friendly insurers, the majority of which have not turned out well. The movement survived all those challenges and continued to grow. I have no doubt that it will survive and prosper after facing its current challenges.
The co-op sector in Britain grew by 20% between 2008 and 2012, while the economy as a whole shrank by 2%. Co-operative businesses in the UK together have a turnover of more than £37 billion a year. Those headline economic figures are striking, but it is the often unheralded work that co-operatives and mutuals do in our local communities that deserve a much greater focus. From the first store set up by the Rochdale Pioneers to the more than 6,000 co-operatives in the UK today, co-operative businesses have been at the heart of our communities for more than 150 years. Today, we have co-operative schools, farms, credit unions and shops; and co-operative housing, co-operative energy and even co-operative pubs. In London, if the Minister will forgive me for being parochial for a moment, co-operatives employ more than 8,000 people and have a collective turnover of more than £750 million.
Of the nearly 700 registered co-operatives in London, I draw particular inspiration from the four housing co-operatives established by Coin Street Community Builders to help to meet Londoners’ need for affordable housing; part of an ambitious refurbishment plan for London’s South Bank, including the famous Oxo tower. With the dream of home ownership out of reach for too many people, housing co-operatives could provide a new and innovative solution for a new generation. About 10% of the citizens of some European countries live in housing co-operatives, compared with just 0.6% of people in the UK. I gently suggest to the House, therefore, that housing co-operatives could make a much greater contribution to tackling our housing problems.
Perhaps the Minister, like me, might draw inspiration from the example of Brixton Energy, also in London, which comprises three energy co-operatives—community-owned solar power schemes taking inspiration perhaps from the better known Baywind and Westmill energy co-operatives in Cumbria and Oxfordshire. The Brixton solar-power initiative has created co-operatively and community-owned renewable energy, the revenues from which stay within the local community. It is an innovative energy solution leading the way in generating sustainable sources of energy and it is jointly owned and operated by people in the community for their mutual benefit. As democratic enterprises, they operate with a one member, one vote policy and are surely a great example of the kind of mixed economy of energy ownership that we need to challenge the big six and move on from today’s problems in our energy market.
The Minister and the House might also draw inspiration from the success of credit unions, which in many of our communities are increasingly taking on the Wongas of this world. They provide affordable credit, empowering many of the poorest people in our communities and helping to retain funds in the local economy. In Leeds, for example, Salford university found a £10 benefit for the local economy for every £1 invested in the credit union, and indeed the Department for Work and Pensions independent evaluation of the financial inclusion growth fund established by the previous Government found that the total loans made by credit unions under the scheme between 2006 and 2011 totalled £175 million and saved loan recipients between £119 million and £135 million in interest, which they would have had to pay had they taken out a high-cost alternative.
The London mutual credit union provides loans, savings and current accounts and insurance. It recognises that there is a market for short-term loans, but charges an interest rate of only 27% for a 30-day loan—a world away from the 5,600% annual percentage rate typical of the payday loan sharks against whom my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) has rightly led the charge. Crucially, it also offers access to basic financial education and services, helping people to gain greater long-term control over their personal finances. Co-operatives and mutuals offer to local communities a crucial part of the mixed economy that our country surely needs. Of course we need a vibrant private sector and certainly a strong third sector, but surely we also need continued growth in the number of co-operatives and mutuals and their economic success.
To be fair to the Government, they have continued to support the strengthening and expansion of the credit union sector, although I hope they can be persuaded to be bolder on the idea of a military credit union. I draw the Minister’s attention to the example of the United States, where the biggest credit union in the world is Navy Federal Credit Union, the credit union for the American military. It has 4 million members and over $55 billion in assets. I gently suggest to the House that it is surely time to consider again how a British armed forces credit union could be made a reality to help our soldiers, sailors and air force personnel in our own communities. A British equivalent could help to protect service families from the scourge of payday loan companies and begin to tackle the worrying levels of financial difficulties experienced by some of our veterans.
The co-operative movement itself in the UK continues to support and encourage the development of new co-operatives and mutuals as part of the response to the needs of particular local communities. The excellent Co-ops UK—the “trade association” of the co-op movement in the UK—and the Co-op Group support the co-op enterprise hub. Examples of co-operatives that have been established and are running well thanks to their support include from Bristol—the Minister may be aware of this—Bristol ferry boats. In 2012, the previous operators went into administration and a group of determined locals approached the enterprise hub for support to launch a community share issue to raise the £250,000 needed to bring the ferries into community ownership. The share offer closed in July of this year having exceeded its target. Some 850 local people invested, therefore enabling the ferry service to continue, providing—crucially—employment for 20 local people.
There is a risk that I have appeared too urban in the examples I have offered, so perhaps I can draw attention to the example of—I hope Welsh listeners will forgive my pronunciation—Tyn-Y-Capel, an historic pub in North Wales that reopened in 2012 as a result of the efforts of a determined group of locals who formed a co-operative to resurrect their local. A community share offer raised nearly £40,000, enough to take over the leasehold of the pub and, again, as a result of support from the enterprise hub. The new co-operative is developing the pub’s potential as a community venue and I am told that numerous community events have been held there since its re-opening.
The last example I want to offer the House of the co-op movement’s initiatives to help local community co-operatives to continue to be established is Aberdeen Textiles and Workwear Services in Scotland. I understand that the co-operative was established in October last year, after the Remploy factory in Aberdeen closed down. It saved some eight jobs, with the co-operative successfully retaining most of Remploy’s former customers up there, as well as gaining new ones, too.
In football, too, the Co-op party’s original idea of fans’ co-operatives—now known as supporters trusts—has taken off in a big way since it was first suggested 10 or so years ago, from Swansea City in the premiership, with fans in the club’s boardroom, and Portsmouth more recently, down to local clubs in north London. For example, Enfield Town football club is owned by some 300 members, who keep the club running and elect their own board. As a result, they have kept a vital community asset going in Enfield.
Co-operatives and mutuals can make an enormous difference in our communities. With the right legislative support, access to sensible finance and shrewd Government encouragement, they could do even more. I therefore have a series of questions that I hope the Minister will begin to address today—if not, I will be happy to hear his answers in due course. What further support might the Government offer to encourage the growth of energy co-operatives? Will he seek to emulate the US, where 12% of the population get their energy from a co-operative, or Germany, where the figure is one in three people? How about a target to push the level of community energy ownership a stage further? What steps will he or other Ministers take to encourage local economic partnerships to support and develop co-operative, mutual or social enterprise businesses, creating local employment and growth in their communities, perhaps as part of future regional growth fund bids?
There has been some disappointment in the co-operative movement that the social investment tax relief, which was announced in the autumn statement and welcomed by many, will not cover investment in most co-operative societies or community credit unions. One of the biggest challenges facing co-operatives today is the ability to access finance to support growth, as I am sure the Minister is aware. Considering the important contribution that co-operatives and mutuals make to local communities,
I hope that Ministers might be persuaded, even at this late stage, to intercede with the Treasury on this important point.
The Government have encouraged Britain’s banks to publish data on local lending patterns. I understand that the first comprehensive set of postcode lending data will be made available in January. I hope it will begin to expose the lending deserts that we know exist in the UK, where access to affordable credit for individuals and, crucially, to small and medium-sized businesses is particularly bad. I offer the Minister the example of Thamesmead in south London, which is an area of 55,000 households with no bank. Indeed, the nearest branch is some 35 to 45 minutes away by bus. Not surprisingly, there are high levels of payday loan usage and a high take-up of “Provy” loans. What provisions will Ministers put in place, once those data are made available, to encourage banks to work much better with local organisations, co-operatives, mutuals, social enterprises and even charities to respond to the needs of their areas?
What actions will Ministers take to encourage housing co-operatives? Will the Minister instruct the Homes and Communities Agency to allocate a proportion of its apparently considerable capital funds for new affordable housing to support housing co-operatives? Will the Minister particularly look at the suggestion advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) that the Government adopt the approach taken by the Welsh Assembly and recognise co-operative housing in law, as it is in much of the rest of Europe? What action will Ministers take to encourage lottery operators to support a new strand of community resilience projects to help make start-up support available for new co-operative and mutual initiatives?
Those are the ideas and questions that I have gently offered to the House today, and I hope they will be seen by the Minister as a genuine attempt to encourage new ways of driving continued growth in the co-operative and mutual sector—a sector that I believe offers considerable benefit not only to my community, but to communities across the UK.
28.11.2013 - "Beyond the Big 6"
The House Magazine
Beyond the Big 6
Unlike in a number of other European countries the generation of energy in Britain is overwhelmingly in the hands of the Big Six energy firms. Ownership matters and the increasing evidence of ever rising prices, growing profit margins and rising wages at the top of energy businesses are further encouragement to the idea that a more mixed economy of energy owners is needed.
Smaller energy generating businesses including a greater number of energy co-ops are essential if the market is to change. To lead that transformation of our energy market we need imaginative, determined local councils willing to help champion such ‘Change Towns’.
In Germany 1 in 3 people get their energy from an energy co-operative (or through their own generation for example through solar panels). In the US 42 million people belong to energy co-operatives. More specifically in Copenhagen more than 8,000 residents are investors in the Middelgrunden Wind Turbine Co-operative which part owns a 20 turbine wind farm generating energy for local people and profits for the city while the town of Schonou near Freiburg in Southern Germany set up their own energy co-operative to buy the local electricity grid when the licence to run it came up for renewal. It now supplies energy to more than 115,000 households.
Could the same situation happen in the UK? It certainly could and there has been growing interest from thinktanks, politicians and the public alike in co-operative energy schemes such as Baywind in Cumbria or Westmill Farm in Oxfordshire.
The social entrepreneurs and enthusiasts involved in such schemes highlight the time it takes, the red tape and challenge of finding funding for feasibility studies as difficulties that politicians need to help find solutions to.
To really make a significant move forward it will require local councils to support such change, to properly consider it in their regeneration and housing planning.
In the Co-operative Party we have considered the idea of ‘Change Towns’ concentrating some of the limited government funding for community energy schemes to support co-operative energy pioneers, working with imaginative councils to turn ambition for locally owned energy solutions into feasible, effective schemes that local people want to get behind.
It is local councils that can help to release the potential of communities’ desire to control basic fundamental services such as energy and power. The strength of the co-operative model is that it helps to ensure that those who control a service are held to account for their actions by their consumers or members of the co-operative.
In turn ‘Change Towns’ would become areas of community energy expertise and would inevitably help to attract new employment, encourage more social action and facilitate a wider, more diverse mix of energy businesses in local energy markets.
Reforming the energy market requires a more diverse mix of energy businesses. Energy co-operatives are essential to that process and ‘Change Towns’ could help to focus interest and effort in a US/Germany style expansion of community energy ownership.
MP for Harrow West
Chair, The Co-operative Party
08.02.2013 - "The Co-operative party must continue its relationship with Labour"
Read more here.
04.02.2013 - "Gareth Thomas introduces new co-operative housing legislation"
Read more here.
16.01.2013 - "Co-operative councils to set out policy agenda"
Read more here.
05.12.2012 - "Gareth Thomas MP joins with sector to support development of community finance"
Read more here.
04.10.2012 - Gareth Thomas MP's speech to Labour Party Conference
To watch Gareth Thomas MP's speech, click here. Alternatively, below is a text copy of Gareth's speech to conference.
Conference, banking and the City have become bywords in the public’s mind for excess and scandal. Former Chief Executive of Barclays Bank, Bob Diamond, is said to have earned £120m.
We’ve had interest rate fixing. We’ve seen the terrible miss-selling of bad financial products to small businesses and the outrageous fleecing of ordinary customers through payment protection insurance. With 20,000 complaints about the banks a day in the last six months alone. As Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have rightly said it’s time for real change.
Like you, we in the Co-op Party champion the ambition of a banking industry with ethics of responsibility, co-operation and stewardship at its heart. And in this UN International Year of the Co-operative, we celebrate the Co-op Bank, expanding across the UK as an example of what’s possible.
Longer term the ongoing outrage is the steady retreat from too many of our communities by Britain’s biggest banks. The businessman looking to his bank for a loan to expand, looking for the bank manager who knows the area, what’s possible, what good investment looks like; but finding there is no such person anymore.
It’s just a computer and someone in a telephone call centre far away making the decision.
No wonder that bank lending has dropped every month since the election. It isn’t just business that suffers when bank branches close. Too many, far too many of our poorest citizens are vulnerable when a branch closes: The elderly woman who doesn’t use the internet wanting to go and talk through the small loan she needs to adapt her home; the single parent whose debts are spiralling.
As bank branches have closed – the government has egged the banks on. Tory Ministers telling us that the banks have to cut costs and that branches will have to close. So the legal loan sharks move in. It’s one of our MPs, Stella Creasy, a Labour and Co-op MP, who has led the charge on legal loan sharks. Home credit payday lenders – charging £82 in interest and collection charges for every £100 they lend.
4 million people are expected to take out a payday loan in the coming months. The vast majority taking out loans for the basics. To cover food, rent or bills. Those trying to bridge the gap between now and payday and finding each month that the gap widens and the problem gets bigger. It’s those people that the Cameron and Osborne’s policies are hitting hardest; forced into the hands of highest cost lenders because there just aren’t enough low cost lenders around.
Thamesmead is in South-East London. It was built in an effort to cope with London’s housing crisis in the 1960s. It is home now to 55,000 households and there isn’t one bank branch. Not one. The nearest is a 30 – 40 minute bus journey away. But the payday lenders are thriving there.
We need a new commitment from the next generation of banking leaders. To work in all areas. To work in all communities. If they won’t lend to some areas or have a bank branch in some communities then they should work with others: with community ‘banks’; with credit unions; with new mutuals. To ensure that whole areas like Thamesmead aren’t cut off from affordable finance.
If you join the Co-op Party you don’t have to wait for 2015 and the next Labour government. You can be part of starting to deliver banking reform now:
•When you go into your local bank branch ask them whether they’re working with the local credit union?
•If you’re a student – ask whether the university and the student union’s banks are working with local mutuals?
•If you’re a councillor ask the council’s banks if they’re working with local community banks?
And if they’re not working in your community, then demand they do or you’ll move your money. We need to inject a bit more co-operation, a bit more mutuality into the way the banks do business.
The biggest credit union in the United States is Navy Federal. A lender run by its customers – all members of the US armed forces. A co-operative – democratically electing its top bankers. The Credit Union was founded by its members because soldiers returning from war were unable to access affordable credit. Payday lenders used to target military bases trying to hook American sailors and soldiers with their high cost financial services. Navy Federal now has 4 million members and over $50 billion of assets – with branches in every military base in the US offering a very direct and personal service to its members.
We too need to aim for that level of success and personal service for customers – co-operators and members.
But friends we need reform of other markets too. In energy; the ever rising prices, the big bonuses, the aggressive miss-selling of overblown energy deals. We need instead more community ownership of local energy; strong, vigorous competition in energy. Not an industry dominated by a few big firms. Westmill Energy in Oxfordshire or Baywind in Cumbria. Green energy co-operatives run by serious professionals offering a quality service but owned by ordinary, local people. In America 42 million people belong to energy co-operatives. The possibilities are considerable.
Too often our national game, football, is run not in the interests of the fans but rather the wealthy individuals or huge corporations who own our football clubs. Slowly, in some clubs the fans are getting more powerful, a series of clubs owned by their fans,
Supporters Trusts growing in stature at a number of Premier League clubs.
Portsmouth is the latest battleground. Fans pushing for control. A rich former owner trying to stop them. To the Football League:- isn’t it time they gave Portsmouth’s football fans their chance to run the club?
In this UN International Year of the Co-operative, with our new General Secretary Karin Christiansen, along with many excellent MPs, we are working on a whole series of other policy challenges: co-op housing; supporting co-op councils; care and childcare.
Like you we’ll be supporting Andy Sawford, Labour and Co-op candidate in Corby, Stephen Doughty in Cardiff and the excellent Lucy Powell here in Manchester.
Conference it’s a privilege to chair the Co-op Party and an honour to bring you fraternal greetings from one of your closest allies.
29.10.2012 - "Cable's current consultation on weakening employees' rights a 'mockery' as Conservative Ministers already introduce Beecroft measures in legislation"
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25.10.2012 - "'The Power Book' launched at Labour Party conference"
Read more here.
28.07.2012 -"How energy co-operatives can help keep bills down"
Read more here.
10.07.2012 - "Power to the people: The energy co-operative with 42 million customers"
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21.05.2012 - "An alternative Queen's speech for co-operatives"
Read more here.
07.09.2011 - "Co-op takeover: Our Party's ideas are more vital than ever."
Read more here.
10.09.2010 - "A co-operative future for Labour"
Read more here.
11.09.2009 - "An idea whose time has come back"
Read more here.