Fast Social: news in/for the Social economy – week 43

If the Social Economy were an animal, this week it would be an existential cat, staring out of the window, wondering what it’s all about.

At the beginning of the week, it may have said something like “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does”. This is because former Chief Executive of the Cooperative Group, Peter Marks, got a grilling in front of a Treasury Committee this week, after news broke that the Co-operative Bank has an almighty black hole in its balance sheet of £1.5 billion, thanks to its merger with the Britannia Building Society. The Chairman of the committee exclaimed:

Being owned by a mutual, the Co-op Bank differed from most of its competitors. But on today’s evidence, its shortcomings did not…a lack of personal accountability at senior levels, ineffective corporate governance and insufficient experience and expertise among those taking the decisions. This has become a familiar story.”

Clearly he’s not an existentialist novelist, but he wasn’t mincing his words. The Co-operative Group had a plan, but it was scuppered by two ‘vulture funds’, who want a better deal for themselves. “Hell is other people” purred the cat.

The Coops inability to do anything about it goes back to a decision made by the Financial Services Authority in 2012. It now looks very likely that the Cooperative Group will only hold a 30% stake in the newly recapitalised bank, causing many to fear that it will lose its ethical USP. Cooperative principles are to be embedded in the Bank’s constitution, in an attempt to keep it ethical. But Jo Bird has an alternative suggestion for those worried about what will happen, and it doesn’t involve navel-gazing.

It’s enough to make you question your faith. “God is dead” meowed the cat, oblivious to the intervention of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the recent debate on energy prices. He’s urged the big six energy companies to start behaving morally and be more “conscious of their social obligations”. They were too busy licking up the cream to take note.

Elsewhere the lobbying bill continues to alarm charities and others, and it seems like the warmth of summer has finally given way to the cold reality of winter. An endless, neo-liberal winter. Thankfully at least we have a responsible and completely sustainable housing market, which has contributed to the fastest growth in GDP for three years. Nietzsche was right, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. “There is no way this is going to fuck up”, said the cat.

Finally, in the ultimate ‘what’s the point of it all?’ news story this week, Tesco revealed that a shed load of food gets wasted every year, and within the first six months of this year 30,000 tonnes of food was wasted. The perversity of this of course is that not only is this happening alongside growing numbers of people living in food poverty in the UK but through doing so, we’re sowing the seeds for further misery in future. Wasted food decays to produce methane, a significant greenhouse gas, and also wastes the water used to produce it. And what the world really needs in less greenhouse gases and more water, not vice versa.

Thankfully, and encouragingly, some bright sparks have stepped away from staring out of the window, and are trying to challenge many of the assumptions taught through traditional economics courses. Hopefully it’ll one day mean a smarter economy and a brighter future. “If you stare in to the abyss for too long, the abyss will gaze back in to you” thought the cat, before tucking in to some Sheba.


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