I’ve joined Plaid Cymru – here’s why

Last Thursday evening, I joined Plaid Cymru. I’ve voted for them at my last two visits to the polling booth, and I explained why here and here. From the outside it seemed easy, and only cost me £2 per month. From the ‘inside’ however, this has been quite a convoluted struggle, as I tried to work out whether I was better placed to effect change outside of the political process, or from within. I even toyed with the idea of starting something up from scratch…. What I realised, is that I needed to ‘do’, and although my work with Indycube is clearly community-centric, for me, it wasn’t enough.

Over the past few years, I’ve come to the firm conclusion that Wales needs a different road map – we’ve slavishly followed the same plan as everyone else, and consistently failed to address the major issues that are relevant to us, here in Wales. Moreover, in lots of ways, using the plans of others has simply exacerbated some of our own problems – and yet political discourse in Wales is filled with managerialism and incrementalism. There are few radical alternatives being discussed, let alone put into action. For those who the current system benefits, I can understand a willingness to continue with the status quo – but for the vast swathes of Wales where it’s not working, this mustn’t be as good as it gets. The entire Welsh political agenda should be rebalanced to deliver better lives for all, not simply for an already well heeled minority. In simpler terms we need to beat inequality.

Alternative models are starting to emerge, and for once this is our time to lead. Not necessarily for others to follow, but for ourselves. To do so effectively, we need all the levers of power in our own hands. Our dependency as a Nation is what holds us back as a Country. It’s what holds back communities and what holds back individuals too. We need to break this damaging cycle, and the opportunity to do just that is here and now.

I’ve not been a fervent ‘Welsh Nat’ all my life. In fact, had you asked me five years ago, I’d probably have described myself as believing Wales is better off within the UK. I now think I was wrong. The main reason I’ve changed my mind, is seeing at close hand, how damaging policies focused (but rarely delivering) on growth alone are to our communities. I also see a global economy that is in the process of slowing to zero or perhaps no growth. Soon the rest of the world will need to get its head around how communities can act as the bond in troubled times. We get that here in Wales – all we need to do is believe in ourselves a little bit more.

I blame all the political parties in Wales for the position we currently find ourselves in. The Brexit referendum highlighted in sharp outline just how out of touch ‘do-good’ politicians and their allies were with disadvantaged communities. Ever since the heavy industries left those areas, politicians of all colours have promised they could make things better, and time and again they simply haven’t. The missing trick, I think is the need to let communities ‘have their head’ – we should seek out and support emergent activities from within communities – often things won’t work, but at least the locals will feel win, lose or draw, the result was down to them, and they own that result, together.

Plaid aren’t getting an easy member in me. I want to influence the Party, and I want to be part of a much changed Wales. I clearly see the need for a radical, progressive Wales, and one where the deeds match the rhetoric. I’ve no intention of swaying from this course, and will push the Party to really believe in Wales, and it’s people. Only then will we start to see a way forward that will collectively be ours to own. I want Plaid to be brave, and to take risks – after all I do wonder what’s to lose if they shy away from this challenge.

I’ve always been engaged in politics, and Plaid isn’t the first party I’ve joined. In the spirit of full disclosure, as a youthful 14 year old I stood and won as the Conservative candidate in our classroom mock election in 1983. More seriously, I was a member of the Lib Dems for a number of years, and stood for election for them in 2005 (Westminster) and 2007 (Assembly), and apart from a brief look at the Greens immediately after leaving the Lib Dems, I’ve remained engaged, but on a non-partisan basis since then. I’d consider my politics to be the result of a political and economic journey, and one I’m glad I’ve taken. I’m therefore no partisan politician – I believe the success of the Nation comes before the needs of the Party, and I’m not one for dogma.

So what does this mean for me? 

  • I’m going to continue to work on the development of an alternative economic model for Wales. I see Indycube as playing a role in that, but I also see the work having a wider reach too. A think/do tank approach seems most appropriate, perhaps not dis-similar to Common Weal in Scotland. This work will be independent of Plaid, and I’d hope the work influences others from differing parties and those outside of party politics.
  • I’m also going to apply to stand as a candidate for Plaid in the upcoming Vale of Glamorgan council elections. If selected, I intend standing in the ward where my family and I live; the Buttrills ward in the centre of Barry. I know how demanding it is to be a good local Councillor, and am up for the challenge and the election.
  • One thing, I’ll be continuing to do is to seek the views of others from around the Country in relation to ways we can improve the lives of all, not just the few. I’m constantly impressed by the ideas and vitality of people who live and work in Wales – I’m just disappointed as to how their opinions and projects are often suppressed by the established norms. Those who’ve been involved in shaping the thinking thus far, I hope will continue to support this work, irrespective of any Party allegiances.

I’ll continue to use this blog to consider concepts as they emerge in Wales. There’s already a few blogs here if you’d like to get a feel as to the ideas that interest me. I’d welcome feedback, and will always respond (to everything but abuse!).

To end, the other day this came through on Twitter, and it made me realise I had to do something. I feel it’s worth sharing. For day to day thoughts of mine, I’m quite active on Twitter as @markjhooper


Well I’ve done it, I’ve made my commitment…… 🙂

Indycube New Year’s Day blog

You’ll find this post over on Indycube.cymru too

On St David’s Day this year indycube will celebrate its sixth birthday. For anyone who has set up in business, they’ll tell you that just getting to six is a major achievement. I agree – it’s been hard work, but I’m not complaining – I’ve never enjoyed work so much. As many people know, my job basically involves chatting to people over a coffee, or if I’m really lucky a beer or two. Not bad, eh? Even better, I get to have these conversations throughout Wales. Over the past six years, I feel like I’ve become more Welsh – in my outlook, my motivation and my passion. I’ve come to understand what ‘Hiraeth’ means. It may have taken me 40 odd years to ‘get it’, for sure, but it’s definitely been a journey worth making.

As we turn the corner into 2016 we have over 25 spaces in our network, with a further handful agreed to open before the end of February, and we are represented throughout the entire length and breadth of Wales. I’m really pleased with what we’ve achieved, but I want indycube to do more, and we need help to do that.

Our focus hasn’t changed since the day we opened at Culverhouse Cross – we want to change the way Wales does business. We’re not happy, that for too long Wales has languished at the bottom of economic league tables, and we’ve become increasingly disillusioned with the lack of trust shown in our own capacity to build a more prosperous Country. What’s happened is that most of us have become used to seeing Wales’ economic policy being skewed by certain interest groups, whether they be international mega-businesses taking grants for creating poorly paid jobs; those moneyed or society types whose voices can have an undue influence on Ministerial ears; or the same old consultants peddling business support, that, given Wales’ GVA performance, evidentially has never worked (doesn’t stop them being paid, mind). Even more concerning is that we’ve collectively abdicated our responsibility to change things ourselves; we expect politicians and civil servants to have the answers. I think it’s fair to say, they don’t, so frankly it’s over to us, all of us.

It became apparent that the only way we were going to achieve our aim, was to encourage our users to do what they do best – run their businesses, but to do it from within their own communities. That doesn’t mean encouraging freelancers and micro-businesses to travel miles to one of our spaces; quite the contrary, we’re bringing spaces where you can work alongside others, to every part of the Country. At the same time, we’re seeing the strength of our network grow, as associates link up between spaces – it’s actually what we’re good at in Wales – real, uncontrived, PRollocks-free networking. We’re a people-centric Country, and trying to be something we’re not, is, at best, a waste of time, energy & money. At worst it represents a huge lost opportunity.

So today – as we prepare to enter a new year, I wanted to take the opportunity to do a few things that I don’t do enough. Say thanks, update you on our plans and, as I’ve alluded to, ask for some help.

Thanks

Firstly, a big thanks to everyone who has ever used Indycube. We’ve had well in excess of 1,500 people through our various doors over the years, and I hope, for however long they stayed, the experience was worthwhile. Many have stayed with us for a long time now, and have become our strongest advocates. I’m hugely grateful for their support and patronage. There’s also a long list of individuals who’ve been remarkably influential in our progress – they’ve challenged, cajoled & questioned me over the past few years, and I’ve done my level best to listen. You all know who you are 🙂

Secondly, I wanted to tell you a bit about our future plans. There’s quite a lot going on in the coming few months, so read on….

We’re giving Indycube away

Most of you will be aware we’re a social enterprise – a Community Interest Company, limited by shares. This has been the perfect corporate vehicle for us to come this far – it’s light touch, the company needed to be able to push on without being held back by too much intervention. I know we wouldn’t have got to half the places we have, had I needed ‘Board’ approval every step of the way. However, Indycube was always ‘owned by the community’, but in legal terms was being held by myself, Tristan Phillips & Kev Moss (our first two, and continuing associates).

We now think the time is right to pass the ownership fully on to the community. On the 23rd December we ‘pushed the button’ to start the process of mutualising Indycube, and on our sixth anniversary, St David’s Day 2016, we’ll convert (subject to regulator approvals etc) from a Community Interest Company (CIC) owned by Kev, Tristan and myself, to a Community Benefit Society (CommBen) owned equally by the members.

From March 1st, if you either live, work or have an association in Wales, you can become a member of Indycube, and be part of our future. You’ll take an equal right in the decisions of the company; electing the Board, agreeing strategic plans & helping the emergent network grow. We want anyone who wants to, to be able to join, so we’ve set the membership levy at only £1 per month. You don’t have to be a user (although they’ll be very welcome) to join. Essentially, if you agree that the status quo just isn’t delivering for Wales, come and be part of something that, with your input, might just work.

For those business anoraks amongst you, the business model we’ve chosen is a type of co-operative. We’ll become a Community Benefit Society, and will therefore be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). We’ve chosen the cooperative route for a romantic reason too – the founder of the cooperative movement, Robert Owen was born in Wales (Newtown) and for many years cooperative organisations were the lifeblood of communities across Wales. We’re keen to replicate the same with our mutualisation.

Price Increases

From March 1st, one thing we’ll be doing is changing our pricing structure. In general our prices will rise, and we’ll be introducing a completely new pricing option (half-timers). Our website will display the new prices, alongside the current ones, so everyone will be aware of what’s happening. 

This is the first time we’ve raised our prices since we started up (it works out at the equivalent of a 3% rise per year), and although we’ve done this reluctantly, it’s important that we ensure the prices paid by our associates matches the costs we expend in order to run the network. I’d hope we can maintain these new prices for the next six years. That’s the plan! But more importantly, this is the last time we’ll take this decision alone – next time this will be agreed upon by the members.

During February, we’ll be working with our current associates to change them over to the new prices. We hope all our associates will understand, and recognise that with desk day prices from marginally over £5 per day, and never exceeding £12 a day, we really do offer exceptional value. More than that we offer the chance to work alongside others and let serendipity do the rest.

The new prices effective from March 1st 2016 are set out here (all attract VAT, currently at 20%):

  • Pay-As-You-Go – our most flexible option will be £12 per day.
  • Part-Time Associate* – £60 per month for 5 days.
  • Half-Time Associate* – £100 per month. 10 days a month working out at £10 per day.
  • Full-Time Associate* – £180 per month. Your own desk, as and when you need it. This averages out at £8 per day.
  • Company rates – teams of between 4 & 8 Full-Timers can take advantage of these special rates – 4-6 desks – £720, 7 desks – £820 & 8 desks – £920. These prices gives an average desk day price of between £5 & £8.
  • Registered Office only – one business registered office is available to Part, Half and Full timers. All subsequent businesses registered will cost £240 pa. Anyone who just needs a registered office can choose this facility on a stand-alone basis for £240 pa.
  • Meeting Room – meeting room hire over 2 hours (which is included in all rates), stays the same and is chargeable at £35 (1/2 day) and £70 (full day).

The Plan for 2016

We want to continue to grow the network, such that freelancers and micro businesses can access like minded people to work alongside, within, at worst, a short drive from home. That doesn’t mean all the spaces need to be 3,000 sq ft offices – far from it, you’ll start to see indycube spaces in smaller locations with maybe 5 or 6 deskspaces in them. We’re planning to find larger spaces that can act as a hub to these smaller satellites.

This continued and accelerated growth will mean we need a few more people to join the team over the next year, but we’re going to be doing that from within our own (still limited) resources – we’ve never believed what we do should be supported from the public purse, particularly when other priorities are so pressing. Many others disagree with this view – could it be, that more often than not, they are beneficiaries of said public sector largesse? Keep an eye out for job opportunities as they arise – I promise they’ll be challenging and rewarding.

Indycube Ventures will continue to support high growth potential businesses to develop, and that opportunity will expand as indycube moves into parts of Wales we’ve not reached before. We’ve already started conversations with those who can help develop the support provided, and we’ll be moving ahead with those in the early part of the year.

And finally…..

I hope you join us (and/or stay with us) on the next leg of our collective journey. I genuinely want to cede control of indycube to a team I’d like to join. We’ve worked hard to get the organisation to the position that it can deliver for Wales, but now we need to realise that ambition – and for that we need you. 

I’m free to chat through anything I’ve written above; the price changes, the mechanics of becoming a member of the new indycube Community Benefit Society when it goes live, or even your interest in jobs that currently don’t exist. If you don’t have my number, best bet is to get in touch via Twitter @markjhooper

Thanks for reading this – Here’s to a wonderful and happy New Year. 

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i Bawb!

Mark