Industrial and Provident Societies (Amendment) Bill 2018: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the law relating to industrial and provident societies and for that purpose to amend the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1893 and to provide for connected matters.

I am speaking on behalf of all of the Independents 4 Change Deputies. This small Bill is designed to amend the regulations relating to the establishment of co-operative societies to make the process of registering a co-operative much easier. It will do this in a number of ways. It reduces the membership criteria from seven members to three, in line with the regulations in place in most of Europe. It allows for electronic filing and registration, a process available to other types of companies, and allows for audit exemptions, which are also available to other types of companies but not to co-operative societies. These small measures will level the playing field and make the establishment of co-operatives much easier. They will lay the basis for us, as a society, to develop this type of economic activity in a way that is much more in line with what takes place in the rest of Europe and the world.

The economic turmoil of the past decade and the insecurity of the market have had devastating effects on jobs and vital services. Against that backdrop, it is no coincidence that Europe has experienced significant growth in co-operatives aimed at salvaging jobs and saving local services. Similar growth has not occurred in Ireland, which is completely out of kilter with the rest of Europe in this regard. This legislation can be part of Ireland joining the co-operative movement that already exists. It is a resilient, democratic movement which is generally based on values of providing good jobs and services that are beneficial to communities. These companies are much more likely to reinvest their profits in training and education than bend to shareholder demands. They are far less likely to contribute to environmental damage in their locality. They are also incredibly sustainable, currently providing 100 million jobs around the world.

Research in economies such as Scotland reveals that the companies based on the co-operative model are much more likely to survive in the first five years than other start-ups, with a 97% survival rate for the first 12 months. The 573 co-operatives in Scotland had a turnover of £2.4 billion last year based on a membership of 1.2 million, while the UK as a whole had 7,226 independent co-operatives, extending from the well-known John Lewis chain, with a £10 billion turnover, to local crèche providers. We believe this model can be replicated in local communities, particularly rural communities, and deliver substantial benefits to everybody. They are a win-win solution.

We have the Dublin Food Co-op, which is run by its members and provides healthy, fair trade, cruelty-free and environmentally friendly produce, for which there is a big market. We have the incredibly successful Belfast Cleaning Company, a worker-owned and managed company that has been operating successfully on a cross-community basis in Belfast for the past five years. The Magpie Recycling Co-operative in Brighton began with three volunteers collecting cans and glass in their locality and expanded into a collective, recycling materials such as old furniture from the curbside to provide a service to more than 2,000 households and a workshop to upcycle the waste. There is no shortage of examples. We believe that this is a win-win model and the Bill provides a simple mechanism that will make the process of establishing co-operatives easier. We will be supportive of any community groups or local workers' groups that want to adapt the model and we will work with pioneers in organisations such as Trademark, which operates out of Northern Ireland, who can assist in this regard.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.