I am conscious of the fact that there are other important Bills on the Order Paper today, and that many of the points I was going to make have been made by previous speakers, so I shall try to keep my remarks brief. I should preface my comments by saying that I am a Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament. Prior to my current employment, I spent 18 years as a Co-operative party organiser, and I am now chair of the all-party parliamentary group on building societies and financial mutuals. My experience in those roles will inform the remarks I make.
I wish to join others in congratulating my right hon. Friend Malcolm Wicks on introducing the Bill. My professional background makes me highly sympathetic to it. Its title—the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies and Credit Unions Bill—is a demonstration of the fact that a family of corporate models is developing to meet the changing needs of our economy and the changing social habits and values of the public. Different models have different aims, but they share two essential features: they are democratically owned and run by consumers, employees, producers or local communities, and the money earned—the profit—is reinvested, for social, educational or environmental purposes and for the local community. There is an emerging consensus among the public at large that this kind of business is the way forward. The old, traditional perception that our economy should be run by shareholder-driven proprietary companies or monolithic public corporations is disappearing. A new model is emerging that is more sensitive to the needs of local communities and that accurately reflects the public's values and aspirations.
From my experience as a Co-operative party organiser, I can remember the 1980s and 1990s, when the co-operative movement struggled to meet the challenge of the aggressive retail multiples, and lost market share as a result. That was partly a result of its outdated corporate legislative base. The public perception of the co-operative movement at that time was of an outdated retail provider that was not responding adequately to changes in retailing habits. The new co-operatives were often unfairly characterised as the province of sandal-wearing, muesli-munching, long-haired, hirsute members providing for a tiny niche market. I might add that my appearance is totally coincidental in this context. Generally, the movement did not reflect the values and public perceptions of the time. The building societies were also under sustained attack. Privatisation was in the air, and they too were often perceived as anachronistic and not delivering the services that the modern public wanted.
What a transformation there has been in the years since! The excesses of the current banking crisis have clearly demonstrated that mutually owned businesses are far more highly regarded than those that are shareholder-owned or shareholder-driven. The co-operative movement has come of age in many ways. It has reinvented and reformed itself as an ethical provider, going back to its community roots. Its turnover is £27.4 billion and it has assets worth just under £10 billion. It consists of 4,700-plus democratic businesses with about 10 million members. It is a very significant proportion of the economy.
There are 55 building societies, which have 23 million members and assets worth £360 billion—huge organisations of enormous significance and, notwithstanding one or two unfortunate examples such as the Dunfermline, with a record of durability that the proprietary sector simply cannot match. Yesterday, I attended the 160th anniversary of the West Bromwich building society, which is not untypical of these organisations and their history. Perhaps they were seen as anachronistic 20 years ago, but now they are not.
A YouGov survey showed that 90 per cent. of people trusted customer-owned businesses; 84 per cent. trusted employee-owned businesses; just 32 per cent. trusted Government-owned business; and only 20 per cent. trusted shareholder proprietary companies.
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