26 February 2004

S2M-827 Co-operative Development Agency

Scottish Parliament
Thursday 26 February 2004
[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]
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Co-operative Development Agency
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-827, in the name of Johann Lamont, on planning for a co-operative development agency. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
Motion debated,
That the Parliament notes the crucial role of co-operative and mutual organisations within local communities and across Scotland; recognises the wide variety in size, capacity and in areas of activity of co-operative and mutual initiatives; congratulates those involved within the co-operative and mutual sector both on the key role they play in local and Scottish-wide economic activity and in delivering social justice; welcomes the commitment of the Scottish Executive to establish a co-operative development agency—CDA—and believes that departments across the range of Executive responsibilities must work together to ensure that the CDA will effectively support and strengthen co-operative and mutual enterprises in all their diversity.
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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I draw attention to an entry in my register of interests, which shows that I am a policy holder in the mutual investment company Standard Life. I used to be in other mutual companies, but they are no longer mutuals.
I did not sign Johann Lamont's motion but only because of pure inadvertence on my part, for which I apologise. I take the opportunity to congratulate her on securing the debate.
I will not speak at great length. I am in the chamber purely because of the inclemency of the weather, which makes my journey north rather uncertain. I hope that that is not a situation that too many members in the chamber share. Perhaps members who are not here have dashed off in the hope that they can beat the weather to Aberdeen—or is there something going on in Inverness?
Community businesses are an essential part of engaging people in the interests and responsibilities of community life. They are something that I have always supported.
Yesterday's meeting of the Communities Committee turned into a most entertaining hour's discussion of the forthcoming changes to United Kingdom company law, which will introduce new vehicles such as community interest companies and community interest public limited companies. I see fellow members flinching at the thought of my going on at length on the subject, but I do not intend to do so. The debate on CICs indicates, however, that there is life in the old beast yet.
The company in which I have the most particular interest from the point of view of mutuality is Standard Life. I led the campaign in 2000 that defeated Fred Woollard when he wanted to capture the assets of the members of that company for stock market interests. Thankfully, we got a substantial vote against his attempt to do so.
People forget that Standard Life was an ordinary company until the 1920s. It was founded in the 19th century, but chose mutuality as a way of taking its business forward because it realised that its future lay in engaging with its customers. Mutuality enabled the dividends that it paid to be given to its customers by way of the products that it sold and delivered.
That point leads neatly into the issue of dividends from co-operative companies, co-operative enterprises, mutual enterprises and credit unions, all of which come under the same umbrella.
When we talk about dividends, far too often we think simply of a cheque that is provided to people who have put up money and have otherwise got no engagement whatever in the business of the company in which they have invested. Some people think of a business purely as a cash cow to be milked for everything that it has got and in which there is short-term interest in getting money out of it. Co-ops, mutual enterprises and credit unions are to be congratulated on representing our communities at their finest, with people co-operating not for the financial benefits that accrue, but for the mutual benefits that society will accrue and which people who join together and work together deliver to us.
I am happy to support the establishment of a co-operative development agency, to which Johann Lamont's motion refers. I hope that it does not get subsumed in the maw of Scottish Enterprise, because it would be of a very different character from the kind of thing in which Scottish Enterprise gets involved. However, I expect it to work co-operatively with Scottish Enterprise. I congratulate Johann Lamont and give her my support.

Stewart Stevenson
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