All seems to have gone quiet on the flagship Co-operative Council in Lambeth. Purdah may be playing a part, but it's quite a political step backwards given the past four years of taking the model out on the #localgov roadshow circuit and trying to flog the idea.
No official word has yet come out of Lambeth Town Hall. I know of a couple of #hyperlocals who are digging around, trying to get confirmation on the story.
It may just be that calling yourself a Co-operative model in May 2014 is not as... progressive as it first sounded some four years ago. The Co-op has become a by-word for bashing bankers. You don't want to head to the polls with that hanging over your head.
Or it could be that the Co-operative values still exist within the Council, it's just that a slight re-branding is taking place. The #lovelambeth hashtag seems to have been pumped out over recent weeks with the same passion that was once reserved for #lambethcoop
And so what is the main evidence linking the demise of the Lambeth Co-op Council?
Take a look at the Lambeth Labour manifesto [PDF] and you'll find only one passing reference to the Co-op Council, and even then it is the Youth Co-operative.
The Lambeth Council website paints a similar picture. All mentions of the Co-op Council have been wiped out - strange, given that being a Co-operative was almost a buzzword in which to package up all of the partnerships within the borough.
And then on the personal level there is the departure from the Council of Sophia Looney, an apolitical officer who served so well in implementing the Co-op policy.
I wish her well... (audio from back in the day.)
The Co-op Council was softly, softy introduced just weeks before the 2010 local elections, with talk of a White Paper to outline the principles. This was then conveniently put on hold ahead of polling. Purdah was given as the reason.
As soon as the election was out of the way, work then went ahead to set up the Co-op Council. The Citizen’s Commission was formed, strangely containing no citizens, but the three highest ranking members of the Lambeth Cabinet.
Criticism of this led to a Who’s Who of ‘progressive’ Third Sector social types being shipped into the borough to fill the seats around the Citizen’s Commission table.
Four years then followed of plenty of policies and presentations, but little real ‘progression’ on the ground. The Co-op Council in Lambeth became a flag ship model on the national agenda. The idea seemed worthy in principle. The practicalities less so.
I personally rather liked the model. I totally understood the removal of the top down approach to working with residents. Where it all became a little confused however was when the politics took over.
The Co-op became a backdoor for council cuts - once again, it was those above in the political food chain that was forcing this on the local authority. To respond with a Co-op model was a little less than transparent.
The Council continually eulogised over the merits of operating under a Co-operative, with residents actually seeing little difference compared to a more traditional form of local government. The Co-operative principles weren’t always present - witness the violent and forceful break ups of the genuine housing co-ops that had been formed in the borough over thirty years ago.
And so now it seems the Lambeth Co-op is dead, just as the electors are about to go to the polls once again.
What were the last four years all about?
Keep your eye on the prize at all times, Comrade...
And what of the financial cost? Or even the future? Is Lambeth Council now un-cooperative?
It will be interesting to see if the model is publicly brought back after the local elections and the petri dish experiment continues to search for solutions.
For reference: dated, but half right, half wrong in The Graun.