If you don’t like capitalism and don’t like socialism, what do you want?

Ted Howard, founder of the Evergreen Co-operative Initiative, told us what we could want, in a fabulous CLES, NewStart, Co-operativesUK and Hub Westminster event I chaired last night.

For me the question he posed is so relevant to the task of regenerating failing places in the UK. The places which have received endless regeneration monies, have lost their economic purpose, and are searching for a new and vibrant future.

Now whilst I am supportive of a greater role for co-operatives, I do not think they are a panacea for all ills. Nevertheless, Ted sketched out some fascinating ideas and key things, which point a way forward for some of our most deprived places.

Firstly, he described the problem some places have as ‘system failure’- economic and population decline, lack of capital, ageing population, reducing tax base and derelict land. Wicked problems, intricately woven together. As system failure the task is rebuilding a new economic system for that place.

Secondly, he pointed out the need to connect public money with place, through a deep understanding of procurement and where money goes locally. CLES has done significant work in this area. Ted highlighted how sophisticated procurement practices can recycle and recirculate money locally, to businesses in targeted neighbourhoods, and to under-served population groups. He showed how this was key to rebuilding a new economic system in place.

Thirdly, he emphasised the importance of anchor institutions – local government, museums, hospitals – which, unlike some private capital and commercial activity, ain’t going anywhere. These, for me, are key nodes in this system and its rebuild.

Fourthly, he explained how the setting up of the network of Evergreen co-operative businesses in Cleveland were a product of both servicing local need and demand, assisted through procurement practices of the anchor institutions. He gave an example of hospital laundry facilities. Previously procured outside Cleveland, he showed how this inspired the need for a cooperative and how the eventual hospital contract heralded in the viability of the Evergreen Co-operative Laundry.

Fifthly, he showed the key role of elected leaders and creative energy in place. Leaders, who gradually accepted that local capitalism had failed, public monies could not solve the problem and that a new and positive future based on cooperatives was the only future.

Sixthly, he demonstrated the range of sophisticated array of financial mechanisms and institutions, which surround and nurture Cleveland’s approach. This included foundation and grant monies. In this, a percentage was placed in a loan fund, where lower rates of return were expected from the investor. Ted also flagged up the US Community Reinvestment act, which allows interest free and cheap loans to the most deprived neighbourhood.

Above all, Ted Howard, showed us that a new economy and a new destiny for the poorest place can be achieved. Failing market capitalism and economic decline can bring social growth. It ain’t capitalism, it ain’t socialism, but this could be the future for regeneration.

  • To read more about Evergreen click here

The original article can be read on the NewStart website here