Pension sense

I met Catherine Howarth of the Fair Pensions campaign, before dropping in to visit the neighbouring offices of the Co-operative Party for the first time. Catherine is an experienced and energetic community organiser – an Obama equivalent, ex of London Citizens – and is using the approach to target unethical investors, such as money going towards oil extraction from tar sands. Catherine and I talked about future campaign ideas.

There will be, I hear from the wonderful Neil Jameson, a coming together of all the community organising coalitions across the country on May 3rd. It is just great to see too that one of the seven campaign calls in the Citizens UK People’s Manifesto is to promote “a rich variety of co-operative and mutual enterprises.”

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The lure of Newton Heath

I have been in the Wheatsheaf pub in Manchester, listening to the plans of FC United (one of our members) to develop a football ground in Newton Heath, location of the original club behind Manchester United. FC United got going when fans got fed up with its takeover by the Glaziers.

The aim is to raise over £3m in community shares and the cooperative club is one the pioneers of a new model of this kind of community capitalism (a term coined by Ron Gryzinsky, founder of South Shore Bank in the USA). The community shares programme, to fill in this story, is one we have pioneered recently with the Development Trust Association.

It is an inspiring story and an ambitious one. The media have tended to be slow on the uptake on all of this, with plenty on football scandals but less on the alternatives, so it is nice finally to see a big splash in the Guardian today by David Conn. As I have blogged before, our survey with Supporters Direct shows that a majority of fans who express a view want their club to be owned co-operatively by the fans.

A comment that captures the spirit of Newton Heath is from the manager, who responds to one question by saying that “sport is about winning, but it is also about community.”

A quiet life

I was due to be in Moscow this week for a gathering of co-operatives across Europe, so I am enjoying not just quiet skies, but a quiet life in London and Manchester.

I’m still intrigued to learn more about the European experience. In Finland, the Tampere co-operative centre has been nominated for the European Enterprise Award. Thanks to the Centre, the number of cooperatives in the region has risen by 500% in the past ten years.  Co-operatives contribute, Johnston Birchall tells me, 21% of GDP in Finland, 16% in Sweden and 13% in Switzerland.

Big numbers, rapid development. Is this a quiet revolution?

The latest misspelling scandal

The thing with new technology is that you get new quirks. On my PDA, my thumb gets it wrong all the time and I sign off messages ‘very beat’ instead of ‘very best’ – sometimes true, sometimes not. In my last job, I emailed the head of the Financial Services Authority last year to complain about the latest misspelling scandal – instead, you guess it, of the ‘misselling’ to consumers of structured investment products.

Good to see that my ex colleagues at Consumer Focus have now submitted a supercomplaint about the £158 billion misselling of ISAs. Keep the spell check off, guys.

Dora the duckling

On holiday on Norfolk lanes, we came across Dora, lost and separated from her family. We carried her to Ringstead Pond (with its wonderful sign – slow ducks crossing). We wish her well.