Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies (Environmentally Sustainable Investment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:43 pm on 11th September 2020.

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Photo of Tom Randall Tom Randall Conservative, Gedling 12:43 pm, 11th September 2020

I was unaware of the enterprise of French nuns, but I am in awe of what they can achieve. I am grateful for that fascinating intervention.

The Bill has laudable aims, allowing co-operatives and community benefit societies to gain powers to raise finance by issuing redeemable green shares to external investors and investing the capital raised in an environmentally friendly, sustainable manner. I also appreciate the intention for there to be safeguards in the Bill to prevent the issuing of shares leading to the undermining of a society’s conversion into a commercial company, though I heard the criticisms of that made eloquently earlier.

It is perhaps worth noting, as my hon. Friend Ruth Edwards alluded to in her speech, that sometimes when things go wrong, they do so quite badly. As my hon. Friends the Members for Northampton South (Andrew Lewer) and for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes) said, sometimes investments do go down as well as up, and it is possible to lose money in a new scheme.

The hon. Member for Cardiff North spoke a lot about community energy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe outlined, in Nottinghamshire we are scarred by the failure of Robin Hood Energy, which recently collapsed with the loss of over 200 jobs. The setting up of Robin Hood Energy was laudable: it was designed to create a wholly owned subsidiary of Nottingham City Council to create a not-for-profit subsidiary to tackle fuel poverty in Nottingham and provide a real alternative to the big six energy suppliers. As I said in an intervention, it had customers way beyond the city of Nottingham, and it did provide energy, but it has now failed at a cost of tens of millions of pounds to an inner-city local authority.

The rather damning report by Grant Thornton into the reasons for the failure of Robin Hood Energy centred around many of the governance arrangements. It said that the arrangements put in place by Nottingham city council for setting up and operating an energy company—a highly ambitious project in a complex, competitive and highly regulated market—were not strong enough, particularly given the nature of the company and the markets. It has been pointed out that there was insufficient appreciation within the council of the huge risks involved in owning and investing in an energy company such as Robin Hood Energy. There was insufficient understanding within the council of Robin Hood Energy’s financial position due to delays in the provision of information by the company, the quality and accuracy of that information and a general lack of expertise at the non-executive board level.

It perhaps would be unfair to judge the entire co-operative movement on the inept leadership of Labour-controlled Nottingham City Council, but it does help to raise the kind of concerns that might arise over the operation of these companies. My hon. and right hon. Friends have outlined those concerns in more detail. I look forward to seeing how the legislation and the ideas develop.