A Co-op visionary – Mark Drakeford is a rare politician who has sought to advance co-operative solutions

Mark is a rare politician who has sought to advance co-operative solutions – and made his actions speak louder than his words. He also understood the importance of co-operative learning in informing and sustaining co-operative action. Mark advocated a cultural shift in the way in which co-operatives are viewed, from a solution of last
resort to co-operative solutions being the model of choice.

Instinctively co-operative in nature, Mark has encouraged and permitted new ideas to be tested and shaped at a grassroots level. Often this went against conventional wisdom and sometimes without input from advisors, some of whom may have been outside their comfort zone.

Hard work, combined with his academic and community work background certainly enabled him to do so and to work with grassroots activists to bring this about. An unconventional politician who understood the need to support change, who was ahead of his time. Referring to St David, Mark recalled, his was  a ‘step by step’ approach

That  is not to say that such initiatives were always successful or that the necessary intermediaries were always best placed to assist. He tried to put co-operative legislation, initiatives, and projects in place, but these require implementation and understanding on the ground to enable this to happen, so this is not a guarantee of success.

But this contrasts with rhetoric about ‘doubling the co-op economy’ without specific plans in place to make this happen. Whilst others had reservations, Mark fully appreciated the crucial role of financial institutions and pressed for solutions by strongly supporting a civic society proposal for a Welsh Community Bank. With cross-party support this is still on track but unfortunately, it will not now launch during his tenure as First Minister.

Resources are not always the barrier to change but in terms of social care, with monopolistic competition dominating the market, change was never going to be an easy challenge.

What is important about Mark’s contribution is that he supported well-argued cases for co-operative solutions and went out of his way to help make sure this happened. As a result, he has started to deliver practical co-operative solutions, which give many hope that he has laid firm foundations for a more co-operative Wales in the future.

David Smith & Chris Hall (published in the Co-op News,  January 2024.

About David Smith

A lifelong co-operative activist. Former roles: Co-op Foundation Trustee; Co-op Group Main Board, Specialist Board & National Values & Principles Committee; Co-op Group Senate; Co-op Group Wales Regional Board, South Wales Area Committee. Public service includes Government Food Adviser; UK Healthcare Regulator. David directed the first EC funded Wales Anti-Poverty Programme; and pioneered co-operative & community initiatives: free legal services, community-based housing associations, care and repair, pre-school & adventure play, local Co-op Development Agencies, multipurpose Social Care Co-operatives. Founded: Cardiff Student Community Action, Welsh Food Alliance & Wales Progressive Co-operators. Board Member, Newport Credit Union; Robert Owen Memorial Museum Trustee. Former Lecturer, Gwent Tertiary College, Graduate Ruskin College, Oxford and UC Cardiff + PGCE, MA (European Human Resource Management) Keele; Professional Food & Management qualifications.
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