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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Co-operatives in Education

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

During a debate in Parliament Meg gave the following contribution.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): Thank you, I think, Mr Hollobone. It is a delight to take part in the debate. Of course, I must start by congratulating the hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) not just on having secured the debate and established such good cross-party support for it, but on his speech. He spoke very eloquently of the reasons why some of us in this room have been co-operators for many a decade, not just many a year.

I warmly welcome him to the cause of co-operation. It is everything he says it is and should be spread more widely, not least in our schools. I have always been proud to be a Labour Member of Parliament, but I am more proud to be a Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament. Some of my colleagues also bear that title. Other Labour Members do not stand as Labour and Co-operative, but are members of the Co-operative party. It is a set of principles and a vision that are widely shared.

I shall not repeat what the values are, as the hon. Gentleman has done justice to that. I shall simply say that I wholeheartedly agree with him that the values of co-operation could not be more appropriate for schools. This is about having all parts of the community—not just the teachers and parents, but people from the community and pupils—involved in the schools. It is about helping them to understand what it means to take on responsibility for themselves, helping them to understand that they have a role in the school and embedding the school firmly where it is—in its local community.

We heard the excellent example from the hon. Gentleman of the school in his constituency that has done so much to persuade him of the values of co-operation, but that is happening up and down our country. We are talking about values such as business and enterprise, and values that are enabling young people to think about going into the world of work, but in a different way—not a competitive way that is unhelpful, but one that focuses on the benefits of co-operation.

Real strength and depth is emerging in parts of the country, including the south-west, my own beloved Yorkshire and Humberside and the north-west, which I am sure we will hear from. Of course, Cornwall, which I am sure the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) will speak about in due course, is looking to become the first county in the country in which the majority of schools work together mutually to pool resources in co-operative ways. This revolution in structures and governance is gaining momentum, and we should all be supporting it. That is why I want the Government to take more seriously the proposals that I made back in April this year in my ten-minute rule Bill.

I support choice in education, but there are barriers that should be removed to allow more schools to follow the successful model of co-operation. As the hon. Member for Wycombe said, the legal forms currently available are Industrial and Provident Societies and Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies. There is no specific provision in relevant Acts for co-operative schools, so although they have done well so far and they exist, they are having to work around the existing structures and legislation. They have been helped enormously in that by the relevant parts of the co-operative movement, Co-operativesUK and the Schools Co-operative Society, but that is not enough. We want this to go further.

I am an optimist: I believe that one clause could deal with the issue. Of course, it would be a powerful clause. I have a draft of the Bill that I put forward, and would be delighted to pass it to the Minister later. It suggests that we allow Education Acts to be amended to include the legal forms that I just mentioned and ensure a level playing field with other school structures. Of course, I know that any legislation has to stand up to proper scrutiny. I would warmly welcome the Government looking at what I have proposed and coming to a view on whether it is the right way forward. I would like to press the Minister on taking that forward.

Mr Sheerman: As greater ammunition, is my hon. Friend aware that a change in the tax structure is coming out of the Treasury imminently and will be very helpful to co-operatives, community interest companies and social enterprise generally? Harnessed to that tax change, a change in regulation might be quite easy and simple to do.

Meg Munn: I thank my hon. Friend. That is a very good point and will, I hope, add strength to what we would like to see. When I put forward my Bill in April, the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), who is now the Minister for Skills and Enterprise, was on the ministerial Bench and was kind enough to speak to me afterwards and to indicate that he thought that this was something that Government should be looking at. Unfortunately, my letter to him either got lost in his office or disappeared somewhere when there was a transfer of responsibilities, but I would be grateful if the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson), could take back with him a commitment to come back to me and to the hon. Member for Wycombe on the Government’s view on this issue.

I believe that legislation as simple as the measure that I have described—a simple amendment allowing the Education Acts to be amended to recognise these forms of school—could enable us to move forward relatively quickly and, as the hon. Gentleman said, would firmly put action behind the warm words that we have heard about co-operatives from the Prime Minister and other members of the Government.

However, I have not limited myself to just one clause in my ten-minute rule Bill, because that would mean that part of the change that is needed would be missed out. My second clause focuses on nursery schools, to which the hon. Member for Wycombe referred. Labour Members have to hold their hands up; the Education and Inspections Act 2006, passed by the previous Government, did not allow nursery schools to become school trusts, and so prevented them from becoming co-operatives. We need legislation to change that. It is important because co-operatives, by their nature, are based in a geographical area that serves a group of people, otherwise known as the local community. The idea that a Co-operative Trust could be a school from nursery through to secondary level, and perhaps through to further education—those are other potential areas for the development of co-operatives that I will not deal with today—is powerful. Allowing it to happen is relatively simple, and we should do it.

Kevin Brennan: My hon. Friend makes a strong point. About two years ago, I visited Upper Shirley high school in Southampton, which is part of a Co-operative Trust with an all-through arrangement that includes a local FE college. There is also a Co-operative Trust in Tiverton in Devon. If the Government were able to look at the issues with nursery schools, that could be a powerful force to promote such all-through Co-operative Development Trusts.

Meg Munn: I entirely agree and am grateful for the example. The important aspect is that parents obviously first become involved with schools as institutions at nursery. They are often more likely to be present in the building, because they bring their children there, and possibly take part in parents’ groups, so if they were introduced to the values of co-operation at that point, they would see it as a normal way to get involved in their child’s education and schooling throughout the age groups.

One of the most powerful aspects of Sure Start, which the previous Government introduced, was that, in a non-threatening, non-stigmatising way, parents from all parts of society were made to feel welcome entering the building where their children were being supported in their education. I know from my constituency and my experience working in social services that many young parents who have had not good experiences in school do not like to cross the threshold, because doing so brings back bad memories.

It is enormously powerful to involve, from that early point, the values of co-operation and support, and to say not only, “Come in, because your child is here,” but “Come in and have your say. We are all equal; all have equal membership.” From the first, it creates a different relationship between the parents and the people providing the education and support for children. The Minister should look closely at that second change.

Mr Sheerman: My hon. Friend and I are both Co-operative Members, and she knows that I have set up a few co-operatives myself. Does she agree that being a co-operative is not a panacea? On this sad day of the demise of the Co-operative Bank as an independent co-operative, it would be wrong of us, as Co-operative Members, not to put on the record that sometimes people get into co-operatives for reasons of venality, and that through incompetence things can go wrong. Full involvement in a co-operative is needed to stop that happening. Today is a sad day for many co-operators.

Meg Munn: My hon. Friend has put his concerns on the record and he is absolutely right. There is strength in the co-operative movement; it is not about co-operative schools managing on their own and being separate academies or free schools, but about their being part of a movement that, as the hon. Member for Wycombe indicated, naturally gives support—there is support from Co-operativesUK and co-operative schools organisations —and sets up mutuality with other schools that can be helpful and supportive.

Steve Baker: I want to respond to what the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) made about the Co-operative Bank—I am glad that is on the record. I would like to offer two points of comfort. First, given the way in which the credit markets were manipulated by central banks over the past few years—Members know that is one of my favourite subjects—no bank was likely to escape, so I am not surprised that the Co-operative Bank was one that did not. Secondly, although we may be small in number, our spirit for co-operation is that of tigers. Co-operation’s moment has come. It will be victorious, and in future the co-operative movement will surge away.

Meg Munn: There is nothing I can add to that. I was going on to say that such wide support is positive.

Andrew Gwynne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. She touches on the power of co-operation outside the schools community. Co-operative schools do not act in isolation. I commend to her the work of Reddish Vale Technology College, which has strong co-operative links with its local nurseries and primary schools. It feeds them, as equal members, into the co-operative principles and ideals that apply at the college, and works incredibly closely with them to drive up excellence in standards across all schools, not only those in the co-operative trust.

Meg Munn: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and to all hon. Members who have given real-life examples, which are the important background to the legislative changes I propose.

Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) (Con): I apologise for missing the beginning of the debate; it was due to a Delegated Legislation Committee. Hon. Members know that I am a keen supporter of co-operatives. I planned to support the hon. Lady’s remarks with examples of co-operatives in Herefordshire, but as I had to sit through all the discussion and hearings about the Co-operative Bank on the Treasury Committee, I cannot resist pointing out that there were specific issues with the bank that were not merely to do with the model it adopted, and a series of catastrophic misjudgements by successive managements. The issues with the bank should not be taken as an indictment of the co-operative model or the co-operative movement.

Meg Munn: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and welcome him to the debate. I welcome his support for co-operatives. I am moved to call him my fellow co-operator, which is the term those of us in the co-operative movement use. Welcome, fellow co-operator.

I am coming to a conclusion, Mr Hollobone. There is wide support for the changes, which the Government now need to action. The NASUWT, a trade union active in many schools, is supportive of the model. It creates, as has been discussed, a basis on which people come together as equal parts to run schools, try to achieve excellence and work in their communities. Everybody should see co-operation as fundamental to education. It should be part of the process, and is what will help all our children and young people to do their best.

I thank all the co-operative movement: the Co-operative Party, which produced an excellent briefing, and drafted the clauses for, and supported me in introducing, the ten-minute rule Bill; and the Schools Co-operative Society, which has been enormously important in ensuring that the schools that have taken on the model are supported, and that growth is achievable in a way that does not threaten the model.


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