GIVING locally-run co-operative businesses a boost after the pandemic is the aim behind Oxford City Council joining a UK-wide network.

The city council has signed up to be part of the Co-operative Councils Innovation Network, a non-politically affiliated association of 70 councils, political groups and organisations which work to support co-operative businesses.

Co-ops are businesses which have been set up to give something back to the community.

This can mean giving employees power over the running of their organisations, customers influence over the businesses they use or involving local residents to shape vital services.

The city council has said joining the CCIN is 'a demonstration of it's commitment to supporting cooperatives as part of Oxford’s economy'.

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Richard Howlett, Oxford City Council's co-operatives champion, said: “Many businesses have given amazing support to their local community through lockdown, but as life begins to get busier we want to support more co-operatives in Oxford who will do this all the time.

"We want to encourage anyone who is interested in setting up a community business to find out more about how being a co-op could be the right way forward.”

But the council's Green Lord Mayor described the decision as a u-turn on previous policy.

Craig Simmons said: "Oxford City Council have historically been lukewarm towards co-operatives; they have not favoured them when procuring services, they have not been given discretionary rates reductions or given them preferential access to council facilities.

"This needs to change - and if this latest statement means that the council is going to change its attitude towards co-operative then that is good news indeed."

The council has said that membership of the CCIN will allow it to share ideas and best practice of ways to recoup extra costs thrust upon it by the coronavirus pandemic.

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Hundreds of councils across the UK have reported extra spending as a result of the pandemic, and they have also lost out on income from rent, car parking charges and even council tax non-payment.

In Oxford specifically, most of the council's budget shortfall has come from losing out on income, as the city owns a large number of commercial properties, which it rents out as offices and shops.

In Oxford, local co-ops include the Broken Spoke Bike Co-operative and Flo's in the Park.

Broken Spoke, based at Osney Lane, has seen an uptick in interest as more people turn to using bikes instead of cars to get around.

It has refurbished 120 old bicycles and given them out free to key workers across the city since April.

It has also a repair service and are selling refurbished second-hand bikes.

Flo's in the Park, a community-owned cafe and hub at Florence Park, has run a take-away service during lockdown and provides around 200 free cooked meals per week to be delivered to vulnerable people.