Head of Policy and Communications, Chris Cowcher, shares an update on the external affairs work Plunkett has been doing in election year.

I have worked in the world of community-owned businesses going back to 2007 and I never get tired of talking about and representing the amazing things that are being achieved by this volunteer-led, grassroots movement.

In an election year, it is more important than ever that we get rural community-owned businesses and the impact of our network on to the radar of all political parties – and in all nations – so that we can secure the policies, funding, and supportive environment in which our sector flourishes.

This blog provides an insight into the work Plunkett has been doing on behalf of our members, championing the difference that they are making in communities UK-wide.

(Photo on left: Shadow Minister, Liz Twist MP, meets with Future Economy Alliance members, including Chris Cowcher from Plunkett UK.)

Plunkett proudly supports a growing movement in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. To make sure that our services are relevant and responsive the needs of rural areas, we endeavour to put learning from over 800 trading community businesses at the heart of everything that we do.

Publicly this ‘learning’ is visible in the reports we produce, such as the recent Impact Report or last year’s Better Form of Business research. It was also used to influence our thinking in respect of how the business model could work in the context of a new housing development. Equally the programmes of support for community businesses that we run, in partnership with funders and other sector bodes, are designed with the needs of the current network and aspiring pipeline groups in mind.

Having access to intelligence, information and the latest evidence is therefore vital to support the work that we are doing. Our recent Better Business survey (circulated only last week) is the current opportunity for the network to let us know how things are going – we would encourage you all to respond by Monday 4 June 2024 to provide insight from your business.

We use insights from the network in all our media engagement and other communications activity. What is less obviously visible, however, is the work we are doing to introduce politicians and policy makers to the work Plunkett does, with and on behalf of the community business movement. Or the engagement and partnership activity that we are doing with other organisations, or government departments with an interest in growing the mission-led, social economy.

Using evidence to back our representations, we have in recent times met with representatives from the combined authority network, from Government, members of the shadow cabinet, MPs and prospective parliamentary candidates. We also have regular meetings with UK Government departments, such as Defra and DLUHC.

In these meetings we set out the value of funding opportunities such as the UK Community Ownership Fund and the local authority delivered UKSPF monies. We have also sought to influence the deployment of the next tranche of funding from Dormant Assets, which will create the nation’s first Community Wealth Fund and support further growth in social investment. We consistently call for continued, targeted investment into our sector and as a rural body we also want to see effective rural proofing of the support available so that our membership may continue to receive impactful investment in future.

It’s not just about money, though. We have long called for a UK Community Right to Buy, to ramp up sector growth. In the meantime, however, we are seeking to promote more effective usage of existing legislation to better support community ownership. In England, for example, through using our Keep it in the Community site.

Finally, when meeting with people of influence we promote the benefit of having advisory support in place to nurture an ever-growing pipeline of community-owned businesses. Our own records show that with advice and support a groups chance of succeeding with a community buyout improve from 1 in 10 groups, to 1 in 3 with support. So that groups have access to advice and support, we champion the need to engage with, commission and fund bodies, such as Plunkett and our partners, so that we may continue to be there – not only for the current network but the next generation of community businesses too.

Much like the movement we represent, Plunkett cannot do it all alone. In fact, there is demonstrable benefit when we are working with others to call for change, or seeking to influence the direction of future policy direction which impacts our sector.

For example, in Wales, our work with the Building Communities Trust-led Community Ownership Group has enabled us to make the case for rural community businesses alongside a wide range of national stakeholders. In fact, our recent ‘Community Ownership: A Way Forward for Wales’ report is now being used to influence the work of a Senedd convened task and finish group look at how best to support sector growth in future.

In respect of the UK General Election however, it is the work we are doing with the Future Economy Alliance and with a collective of organisations calling for a Community Enterprise Growth Plan, that are providing the greatest opportunity to shout about the work our members are doing at a grassroots level. We also actively support the ambitions of the We’re Right Here campaign, too, as their central ambition of a Community Power Act could be transformative of our sector.

These national campaigns, which represent a diverse range of organisations from across the country, enable Plunkett to amplify our network’s impact alongside other Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) organisations.

As well as the work at a national level, we are seeing an increased interest from local politicians wanting to know more about the work of community businesses in their area. Plunkett is happy to support any members looking to engage with their current MP or prospective parliamentary candidates but would also encourage you to directly invite these people to volunteer for an afternoon at your business, or attend a committee meeting to truly understand the work you do.

So that we can track engagement, please keep Plunkett informed of your local engagement via data@plunkett.co.uk. We are happy to help you with briefings and any follow up communications too.

Our ask: Alongside you promoting your individual story and getting across your support needs we would also ask that you help to convey the message that the community ownership movement is ‘more than just the bricks and mortar’.

We know that owning the asset is the initial ambition of all groups looking at this form of business, but it is the impact you are having which is far more transformative for your community, the local economy, and the environment more widely – and we need your help to get this message out there to support our calls for sector support more widely.

Minister Kevin Hollinrake, speaker at a Future Economy Alliance event in London, hosted by Onward

Mayor for West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, with members of the Future Economy Alliance, at an event in Leeds

Representing individual member interests

As well as the national campaigns we are involved with, Plunkett remains committed to supporting individual member interests – on both local and national matters.

Please get in touch via membership@plunkett.co.uk and see how we can support you in addressing matters which are affecting your business.

Join the movement: Become a member today

As our membership grows, so does the profile of our movement. If you are not already a Plunkett member, please sign up today. You can become an individual support for just £20 a year and show your support for this growing sector.

If you are interested in learning more about our research and policy work, please do get in touch with Chris via chris.cowcher@plunkett.co.uk or make a donation to support our research activity.

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