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Kayleigh Walsh
06 Oct 2017

Preston – the new co-operative city?

Last Friday I was on a panel with Ed Miliband, Mikel Lezamiz, Ted Howard and Professor Richard Werner to close a half day community wealth conference.

I’ve only recently been introduced to Preston’s community wealth project that is being spearheaded by Councillor Matthew Brown working closely with CLES and the University of Central Lancashire. I  would love CoTech to be part of the project – it’s an ideal example of making [a part of] the world a better place.

After being severely hit by the financial crash ten years ago, the project wants to repatriate wealth to the city starting with the council’s £750 million procurement spend which could be redirected to co-operative businesses. Not only do the Preston team know that worker co-ops are based on the values of democracy and equality, they’ve identified gaps in the procurement process to support the setup of more co-ops to deliver work that the council needs.

This is where we come in – CoTech are in talks to deliver IT projects that will facilitate a procurement process that recognises employee owned businesses. Alongside that, we support UCLAN’s digital graduates in setting up worker co-operatives so that in the long run, they can deliver projects to the council.

On a personal level, it was a privilege to share the stage with two co-operative stalwarts. Mikel Lezamiz is the Director of Mondragon, a £4 billion business owned by its seventy five thousand workers and spread across 120 co-operatives. It has survived Franco’s dictatorship and the Spanish financial crisis. Ted Howard was a key figure in Ohio’s community wealth building project, Evergreen Cooperatives, which was a grassroots response to huge job losses in the city that left people with no income. Both are now considered global innovation models, and Preston is rightly considering them as examples to follow.

Here are some fun facts that I got from the event:

  • In just five years, more than £70m has been redirected and to spend on Preston organisations
  • Preston Council are already selling energy to its residents as an alternative to the expensive big six
  • Foodwise, a co-operative food to table project is underway to provide fresh food at accessible prices for local residents
  • Ed Miliband was mistaken for Nick Clegg on the way to the event. Ouch.

My contribution to the event was short but I made sure that I responded to Ed Miliband’s question: how can co-operatives deliver large projects when established companies are already delivering these projects? Mondragon and Evergreen are two examples of how community wealth can be achieved in a decentralised and scalable way and also affect many thousands of people. It’s up to us as consumers to engage with these types of initiatives, and organisations to buy from co-operatives if we are going to see success on any scale. CoTech was made for this type of movement because it needs tech expertise from similarly aligned organisations.

It was a great event but there was way too much information for four hours – I’m hoping to see a day’s event pop up next year.