During lockdown, communities in West Yorkshire came together in extraordinary ways, rallying to share what they had and support each other. We saw people looking out for one another; picking up food and supplies for those who were vulnerable, organising mutual aid groups to support neighbours, and sacrificing so much as part of a wider, communal effort.
In this we saw the true values of co-operation in action – self-help and concern for community – and it is this platform that the next Mayor must build upon to help our region move forward.
This is not the time to return to business as usual – it is an unique opportunity to forge a new path for a devolved West Yorkshire region. As a Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament, it’s this way of doing things differently that the co-operative movement I’m proud to represent has always pioneered.
As someone who started her acting career in a co-operative agency, I know co-operative initiatives do business differently. Owned and controlled by their members, they exist to serve the needs of local communities rather than shareholders.
In these businesses, power and wealth is more equally distributed, and the profits made are more likely to stay in the local area. And that’s exactly what we need here in West Yorkshire.
The years ahead are going to be tough so it’s exciting to know that recent research shows co-operatives are more likely to survive the difficult early years many new businesses experience, more likely to experience higher productivity as workers have a stake in the organisation, and economies characterised by strong co-operative sectors have smaller gaps between rich and poor.
This is the base from which we need to begin to rebuild to ensure West Yorkshire is the best place to live and work.
Fortunately, elected Labour and Co-operative Mayors across the country have already been putting co-operative solutions into action, providing a blueprint for how a Mayor of West Yorkshire can rebuild our towns and cities after this crisis.
In Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham’s Co-op Commission has explored how the co-operative sector can play a significant role in rewriting the rules of economic development so more people have a stake, and say, in the economy, and can provide a different approach to some of the thorny issues of the decade such as decent housing and public transport.
The recommendation of turning Greater Manchester into a Co-operative Enterprise Zone, for instance, would provide dedicated resources to support co-operative solutions right across the economy: from establishing community-led housing projects to address the housing market crisis, to community-owned transport models that puts the needs of passengers ahead of profit.
Mayor Jamie Driscoll in the North of Tyne has put co-operatives at the core of his ideas for reforming the economy too. As the Shadow Minister for Cultural Industries, I’m delighted this includes a dedicated £8.4m for a culture and events strategy, to develop home-grown festivals that provide opportunities to showcase local talent, involving local people, and supporting local businesses.
Creating an ecosystem in West Yorkshire for a thriving cultural sector rooted in our local history is another co-operative solution to re-design our regional economy, whilst giving others the chances I had growing up in Batley.
Right across our economy, co-operative solutions like these can harness the spirit shown in response to the Covid-19 crisis to ensure that as we rebuild, we do so in a fairer way that puts our local communities at the very centre of how we do business.
The outpouring of community co-operation throughout our region in response to the crisis was extraordinary, and one cause for optimism despite the devastation we have witnessed. But we cannot simply let that go to waste and we return to the status quo.
The Mayor of West Yorkshire has the chance to build on the co-operative nature of our communities and shift the economy to one that shares wealth more fairly throughout them.
Other Mayors have outlined the blueprint for how we make this happen – it is vital West Yorkshire doesn’t miss out on this opportunity to do so.
Tracy Brabin is Labour MP for Batley & Spen. She is a Shadow Culture Minister.
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