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Mutual Mayor: Street turns to social to tackle region’s biggest challenges

Mutual Mayor: Street turns to social to tackle region’s biggest challenges

🕔16.Feb 2017

Key social challenges like youth unemployment, transport, mental health and social care could be tackled with the help of co-operatives and social enterprises, as part of the latest pledge to be unveiled by Conservative Mayoral candidate Andy Street.

As Mayor, the former John Lewis managing director – who describes his former employer as “Britain’s most successful workers’ co-operative” in his official biography – has pledged to champion a new generation of mutuals, social enterprises and co-operatives as part of a wider public sector reform programme.

Mutuals – organisations fully or majority owned by their members – and social enterprises – businesses which trade to specifically help improve communities or the environment – are already an important part of the economy, according to the Street camp.

In the UK, Mr Street says there are almost 7,000 co-operative businesses, contributing £34 billion to the economy each year. In addition, there are more than 100 public service ‘mutuals’ which have spun-out of government.

The West Midlands has the largest amount of social enterprises of any UK region outside London. Many of the West Midlands social enterprises are new, with 43 per cent less than three years old says Mr Street’s campaign.

The pledge is reminiscent of a run of speeches and announcements in the early part of the Coalition Government, when David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Francis Maude suggested the ‘John Lewis Model’ could be the answer for many parts of the public sector and also help avoid the worst excesses of capitalist structures.

Mr Street says he is committing to the West Midlands being a leader in this field, whether spun out from the public sector or new businesses.

Andy Street’s latest pledge follows a commitment to reopen the Stourbridge to Walsall line and the Walsall to Wolverhampton rail route, as well as a promised 40-fold increase in investment in routes for walking and cycling.

Among the proposals being considered by the Tory hopeful are:

  • a mutual back-to-work provider to help deliver the candidate’s commitment to eradicate youth unemployment
  • elderly social care providers owned by employees, with a stake held by users and their families.

Mr Street said:

We need a bold new approach here in the West Midlands in tackling our most challenging issues. We all know the case of ‘the council will sort it’ isn’t going to be enough.

This is why I want to use my knowledge of mutuals to secure funding and deliver a new wave of mutuals and social enterprises to tackle the issues we face.

As managing director of John Lewis, I saw how mutuals can drive higher commitment from employees, deliver greater service and share rewards with employees.

The suggestions for areas where mutuals might be created or engaged go far beyond the areas of responsibility the new Mayor will have at the start of their term. It is not clear what Labour council leaders, who will sit around the WMCA table with a new chair from 8th May, will think of proposals from a Tory Mayor to tackle social care reform.

The Conservative candidate continued:

There are some fantastic mutual and credit unions already in the West Midlands, for example the John Taylor Hospice in Erdington and the CitySave Credit Union.

Alongside the third sector, these organisations make a big contribution.

I have seen first-hand the brilliant work Steps to Work in Walsall does in helping people back into work, care leavers and ex-offenders making and selling treats at Miss Macaroon, and amazing support for the homeless and rough sleepers by charity organisations like St Basil’s and Langar Aid.

With the Mayor’s clout and my experience leading Britain’s biggest co-operative, we can spread this brilliant idea.

As Mayor I am determined to bring the third sector more into the mainstream with the West Midlands Combined Authority. The role they play is hugely important and their voice needs to be heard.

Andy Street (Conservative) is running for Mayor of the West Midlands against James Burn (Green), Pete Durnell (UKIP), Beverley Nielsen (LibDem) and Siôn Simon (Labour). All five main candidates will appear at four Public Debates, organised by the publisher of the Files, starting on 7th March at Black Country Living Museum. 

Our colleagues at the Express and Star newspaper, which is leading on public engagement for the first event, has started the application process for tickets.

Your can find out more about West Mids Elects at the dedicated website here and follow on Twitter at: @westmidselects.

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