The partners at Co-operative Solutions have been in the forefront of co-operative development and third sector consultancy since the early 1990s. Initially established as a fully incorporated worker co-op, times and circumstances changed and CS Ltd formally ceased trading. A short while later, Co-operative Solutions re-emerged as a significantly smaller co-operative partnership.
The driving force behind both entities has been Jenny Smith. Martin Strube did some sub-contract work for CS Ltd but became a full member of the later partnership. Throughout, CS has maintained the highest standards in acquisition and delivery of a wide variety of pieces of work and in the application of co-operative principles.
Jenny and Martin were instrumental to the establishment of the UK’s first regional co-operative council – the Eastern Region CC – to reflect the then Labour government’s commitment to European regions. They were also the prime drivers for the Euro funded “CDA Anywhere” project which extracted best practice from a range of transnational enterprise support practitioners and delivered a comprehensive manual and one of the internet’s first on line repositories of extensive documentation, templates, models, and guides.
A wide range of co-ops and small businesses have been supported over the years, ranging in activity from film-making to electrical installation to catering to hostels. Credit unions and housing co-ops have also been supported.
In addition, CS has been involved in Programme design and management for various Local Authorities and third sector bodies. Monitoring & Evaluation has also been provided for Programmes delivered by other organisations.
But the focus has also been on the co-operative movement strategic overview. Both Jenny and Martin have been active as members and representatives in a number of retail societies, including The Co-operative Group. They were also involved at various times on the Board of ICOM (the Industrial Common Ownership Movement) and Jenny still serves on the Board of Co-operative and Community Finance.
Apart from the usual enterprise support, CS has been running and trying to raise the profile on “Democracy Audits”. These are systematic, partially empirical, assessments of the quality of an organisation’s internal democracy. A recent DA carried out for Daily Bread Ltd in Northampton led, in part, to Daily Bread’s selection as one of Co-op UK’s “co-op of the year”. This work carries on in association with a range of academics and academic institutions in an effort to refine and peer review the process.
CS has also been exploring “crypto currency”, especially FairCoin, as a means of allowing the co- operative sector to become less reliant on the mainstream economy. This is extremely long term thinking and CS would welcome partnership with any individuals or organisations who are also involved in such research.
In addition, CS is currently assisting out of work semi-professionals to establish a co-operative employment agency. Because the agency would be owned and controlled by the job- seekers themselves, it would assure the preclusion of the standard bad practice usually associated with such agencies.