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Our co-operative council has helped to tackle austerity

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Not many councils take the brave decision to tackle increasing austerity and challenges on their own front door step by investing in communities and the power of people.

Tracey Lee

Tracey Lee

  • Project: Transforming Plymouth City Council and Empowering Communities
  • Objectives: To create a fairer Plymouth where everyone does their bit
  • Timescale: 2013 – present
  • Cost to authority: £5m a year (consumed within the revenue budget) to realise £30m of transformational benefits alone between 2014 and 2017
  • Outcomes: A number of services are now run for and by local people
  • Officer contact details: Tracey Lee

Our approach has been about encouraging more people to do things for themselves. It has been about creating a fairer Plymouth where everyone does their bit. We have created a culture that accepts we do not have all the answers.

In 2012, faced with rising demand and less money, we had to think differently about local government and the relationship it has with citizens.

Cooperative approach

If you take a cooperative approach that designs with people, the outcomes are far better. As an organisation with a gross budget of £500m we needed a very clear, open and transparent plan. Our corporate plan, published in 2013, drives our decisions. At the heart of this are our values; everything we do relates back to them. Our values ensure that we are:

  • Democratic
  • Responsible
  • Fair
  • Partners in everything that we do

The plan holds us to account, enabling our city to judge our performance. It also received cross-party support.

Idea exchange 4 June


Making changes

Most of our changes have been achieved within the budgets we had already allocated because we supported our communities to find the best solutions. Our role has been about active encouragement and support. Some people in our communities embraced change early and others didn’t. We have learned a lot about what our communities want; there are some things they want a say on and there are other things they just want us to get on and deliver for them.

Delivering services with communities

As a result of our new ethos, we now work with partner organisations to achieve a number of outcomes for our communities:

1,000 Club The 1,000 Club is based on the principle of everyone doing their bit. Its aim was to get 1,000 businesses to create just one job or opportunity for a young person. To date 1,200 businesses have signed up to be members of the club, supporting in excess of 700 jobs, over 800 apprenticeships and more than 700 work experience opportunities.

Plymouth Energy Community (PEC) The PEC is a members’ co-operative run by residents that helps people save money on their fuel bills, reduces energy use and raises awareness about energy choice. It does this by working with a range of organisations to provide energy provider switching and advice on fuel debt and energy efficiency.

PEC poster


The PEC has also set up PEC Renewables, which invests in community-owned renewable energy installations across the city. It has successfully implemented two community share offers raising £1.45m of community investment to fit free solar panels on schools and community buildings. Over the next 20 years, these will generate a community benefit fund of £1.2m, which will be reinvested in local carbon and fuel poverty reduction projects.

Catered This is a trading co-operative set up in 2014 to serve almost 2.5 million meals to Plymouth school children. Thought to be the first in the country, it is 49% owned by schools and 51% by the council. It brings together the pooled budgets of 61 Plymouth primary schools, five special schools and one alternative complimentary education service. It serves more than 12,000 meals every day to children in Plymouth with 86% of the menu made from fresh, local produce.

Community Economic Development Trusts (CEDTs) We have an extremely good track record for creating successful CEDTs in Plymouth. The Four Greens Community Trust, for example, was set up in October 2013 for people living in the north of Plymouth, an area with a high concentration of deprivation. The council set aside land and property worth around £3m for the trust, which can be used by the community, for the community. A steering group consisting of 40 local stakeholders, including residents and councillors, was set up to progress the trust. It is now a community interest company with a fully elected board. Its first project is the conversion of an empty care home into a community enterprise hub, which has the potential to deliver 24 business units and five business hubs, creating around 65 jobs over two years.

Delt Shared Services This limited company is publically owned by the council and NHS Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group. Delt provides all ICT infrastructure, support and solutions to both organisations and has retained local expertise and talent to do so. In 2014-15 Delt realised savings for the two organisations of £605,000 through greater efficiencies. It has also enabled closer working between health and social care staff.

Becoming a cooperative council has meant that we are now more intelligent as an organisation about what works. Having an engagement framework enables us to create some consistency in our approach with our communities of interest, geography and identity. We live through our values, creating that consistency, but not uniformity, and supporting freedom to be co-creative.

Our services have to work together in a way that they have not done before. We have worked with partners to find joined up solutions, to minimise duplications and find better outcomes for those we serve - creating a Plymouth public services family along the way.

Tracey Lee, chief executive, Plymouth City Council




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