I haven’t yet offered any sort of reportage on the Co-operative Congress on Friday and Saturday, and I guess I need to rectify this omission.
Friday was, to be honest, a lack-lustre affair, with the formal AGM of Co-operatives UK somehow failing to engage the bulk of the audience. Votes, such as were needed, were taken on a show of hands and overwhelmingly carried, and there was never any question of needing to resort to card votes (probably a good thing, because the Co-operative Group would have had at its disposal 9576 votes while most Co-operatives UK members would have wielded 1 or 3 votes). AGMs are not always exciting occasions and consensus is great but, still, it would be good to see a little more energy expended in discussing the performance of the British co-operative apex organisation.
But things perked up on Saturday, helped it has to be said by a classic rallying cry from Pauline Green, former President of the International Co-operative Alliance and now able to give all her attention to the British movement. Pauline was heavily engaged in the work three years ago which led to the development of the ICA’s strategic plan, the Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade, and now she was calling for something similar to be produced for the movement in Britain.
Co-operatives UK has already selected the task group to work on this ‘national Co-operative Development Strategy’, which Pauline will chair. The task group is a welcome mix of old hands and younger people, and is also not too bad in terms of gender balance. It’s come up with the three key themes for the strategy: the need to encourage Co-operative Excellence, to practise co-operation among co-operatives, and to be open to innovation. These are, I think, well chosen and helpful themes.
What is encouraging is that there is clearly a desire that the strategy emerges in part from a bottom-up debate within the movement rather than by dictat from on high. So for much of Saturday Congress delegates were encouraged to work in small groups to identify the issues the strategy needed to address and to begin to work towards priorities and solutions. I sometimes weary of exercises with endless flipchart sheets and post-it notes, but this was a gallant attempt to engage delegates in starting what will be an important discussion.
Co-operative Congresses have taken place annually since 1869 but this was the first time that Wakefield was the host city. Congresses in the past were major affairs, with huge numbers of delegates. This was a smaller affair but, you know what, probsbly a lot more participative than the Victorian events ever were. A worthwhile way to spend half a weekend.
Flipcharts and post-it notes to the rescue…