Placard humour

“Librarians won’t stay silent”

And also, at the back, “I was told there would be biscuits”

The case for collaboration

The best things I have done in my life – and not just children and family – have involved collaboration.

Looking back, I don’t see these about working with equals but my betters – working with Ann on the campaign Jubilee 2000, Agnes on our book Consumer Kids, Philip at the National Consumer Council, Simon, David and all at New Economics Foundation – these are amazing people, stars no less and conjurers of magic beyond my wit.

It was great then to skype talk to Rachel Botsman in Australia whose book and work is about collaborative action, particularly online. Remarkably, her publishers seem to have encouraged her to exclude co-ops from her book, but we soon found 101 connections.

Rachel is a wonderfully innovative and entrepreneurial voice, and she hopes to develop a collaborative movement worldwide and where better, to my view, than alongside the ethics and practise of a wider co-operative sector? I hope we can work together.

So what, if anything, have I learned about collaboration from those I have worked with?

1. The best collaborations I find are based on difference. Ignorance is a great start. Not knowing is a better motive for working together than knowing the same things.

2. Confidence is not about safety but about being willing to take risks.

Tales from the world of retail

I have been listening and watching at the Retail Week conference in recent days.

The kings of the jungle were there, including Philip Green, who moaned about having to pay taxes for waste collection (go Uncut, go) and the new UK CEO of Tesco, Richard Brasher who speaks in an odd language from Planet Tesco – ‘our dreams are still alive but slightly less accessible than in boom times’.

But there were inspirational talks too, from people like Mark Constantine, co-founder of Lush.

Supermarkets continue to hoover up wider retail – growing from 35% of overall retail spend in 2000 to 43% in 2010.

And there is little cheer for the high street. The number of shop vacancies has doubled over the last two years – higher still in the North. And within five years, out of town shopping spending is predicted to overtake high street spend.

The one bright spark, according to Alan Giles, Chairman of Fat Face, is where local businesses and the local authority collaborate though proactive high street management. It helps to be distinctive, he says, and it helps to co-operate.

Fenwick First

First time in Fenwick, two hundred and fifty years after local weavers formed a pioneering cooperative and credit union. A beautiful, uplifting event in the Kirk and then hotel, thanks to the new weavers and Fenwick Primary School.

Co-operative rail

I feel like one of the great train passengers this year, but travelling by train combines high highs and low lows.

We have just published a brilliant analysis by Christian Wolmar, the transport commentator, on the case for co-operative rail. Almost three quarters (72%) of regular rail users want a greater say in the rail company they use most frequently, while over half (57%) of all adults think tickets would be cheaper and 58% believe that customer service would be better if passengers co-operatively owned the rail company.

Despite passenger journeys generating revenue of £6.2bn last year, the railways remain largely owned by private companies yet are subsidised by the tax-payer to the tune of £5bn a year. 19 franchises make an annual profit of £250m while passenger fares rose, in January, by up to 11%.

It is nice that the most senior rail enthusiast we have, Lord Andrew Adonis, the last Transport Minister and now at the Institute for Government tells me that “This is a very important and timely contribution… and exactly the kind of creative thinking our railways, and more generally, our public services will need in the years ahead.”

Cultural revolution

Have spent an inspiring few hours with creative co-operatives – artists, graphic designers, sculpters, cake makers, animators and photographers – in Salford.

The streets around, all the way to Rochdale, are lined with billboards featuring coops as part of the ‘join the revolution’ campaign. One person tells me that Andy, one featured as a member of the football coop FC United, drove him round the roundabout twice so he could see him 10 metres tall.

One creative band, I think called Serious Drinking (?), issued an album years ago titled “the revolution starts at closing time”…

Crime watchers

I was speaking today at the launch of a new report by Centre Forum the liberal think tank on ‘co-operating out of crime’. The author and innovator, Dave Nicholson, argues that you get far better results if people are allowed to shape their own rehabilitation through involvement in democratic coops.

Lord Macanally, Lib Dem Justice Minister, spoke eloquently in favour. One half of adult offenders are re-convicted within the year – new solutions, he agreed, are desperately needed.