A Right to Buy for the 21st Century

Over recent months, railways, football, press, housing, banking and energy have rarely been out of the headlines. In markets beset by scandals and rising prices, more than half of consumers feel they have ‘little or no control’[1] in critical sectors of the economy. A new report from the Social Economy Alliance and supported by Supporters Direct, Co-operative Energy and the National Community Land Trust Network proposes a Right to Invest to give power back to the people.

Click here to read the Right to Invest Report

If politicians act on the suggestions in the report rail passengers, newspaper readers and football fans have the chance to take ownership of the assets and services that most matter to them

In 1979, Margaret Thatcher introduced the Right to Buy, calling for a “crusade of popular capitalism” that would “enfranchise the many in the economic life of the nation”. Yet, more than 25 years later, the idea of a popular, democratic, asset owning economy has never been further away.  Our stock exchange has never been more in foreign hands, our energy companies are run by foreign governments, our football clubs are owned by oligarchs and our press is controlled by a few wealthy individuals.

Politicians recognise the problem and are starting to see the potential for community ownership – an idea which combines the best of left and right. Ed Davey has introduced the idea of a right to invest in renewable energy. Francis Maude has championed mutuals in public services. Ed Miliband wants to give employees a right to employee ownership. Both Labour and Conservatives are exploring how football fans can be given greater control of their clubs.

Just months from a General Election, in a campaign sadly lacking positive ideas, the report lays down a challenge to the parties to include a bolder right to invest in their manifestos to capture the imagination of a disillusioned and disempowered electorate.

The report recommends, in particular, that the next Government: 

  • Extend the Community Right to Buy to businesses of community interest as well as assets
  • Introduce new models of community financed infrastructure to improve upon the widely discredited Private Finance Initiative (PFI)
  • Extend the Social Value Act to the management and disposal of assets
  • Explore the introduction of a new right to invest systematically across critical areas of the economy
  • Quickly enact a mandatory right to invest in renewable energy at around 25% of projects 1MW and above, and extend this to offshore enterprises.
  • Use the tax system to incentivise more socially and environmentally responsible business models

Dan Gregory, Director of the Social Economy Alliance, said “This idea can reconnect UK citizens with the economy around them. The things we care about are owned and controlled offshore, anonymously or by a handful of powerful individuals. We need a right to invest, which could work, not only in energy and football, but in housing, rail, press and banking and more.”

“We need a more social economy: one which offers the many, and not just the few, the opportunity to invest in the assets and infrastructure that support our livelihoods, our wellbeing and the daily essentials of life in the UK.”

Many people have the will and the money to do this, with £1.2 trillion of cash holdings in UK households [2], they just need government to give them the chance to invest.

The report from the Social Economy Alliance is supported by Supporters Direct, Co-operative Energy and the National Community Land Trust Network.

Ramsay Dunning, General Manager of Co-operative Energy, said:  “Residents of the UK have less of a stake in the UK’s renewable energy assets than do citizens of other countries. Communities up and down the country have demonstrated an appetite to own a meaningful stake in projects. What is needed is an impactful, mandatory right to invest.”

[1] http://www.socialenterprise.org.uk/social-economy-alliance/news/big-fix-needed-in-britains-broken-markets-says-social-economy-alliance

[2] 82% of adults in the UK have a savings account and household cash holdings amount to £1.2 trillion (or £1,200bn). [FCA, October 2013]