Clegg wants to see greater use of mechanisms such as mutual societies and partnerships like John Lewis. A modern version of social enterprise organisations such as these is reverse franchise, whereby franchisees progress to own the franchisor.

One such reverse franchise structure is Land Network. Back in the 1990s, the Department of Trade & Industry asked Land Network to look at recycling bio-waste, with the intention to use municipal and industrial waste streams as a cash-earning bridge between urban and rural economies.

Under this scheme, in which farmers participate, a farm can eliminate the purchase of mineral fertilisers and take a gate fee instead for wastes delivered to their site which can be spread back onto the land as compost.

This has benefits for waste producers in terms of lower transport fees, a more sustainable recycling route, and the potential to take back biofuels in return produced from oil seed crops fertilised with wastes.

According to Land Network, there is scope to save the import of up to £2bn of mineral fertilisers used by UK farmers every year. The scheme works in that the central operation franchises the farmers who in turn, are given shares and so ultimately control the franchise.

As soon as the farm recycling business begins to develop, it is given a regional company with a local name tag that is 90% owned by the farm and 10% owned in the centre. At the same time, the farm is given one share and a directorship of Land Network.

Under the scheme, one organisation currently uses 15,000 to 20,000 acres of farm land and has already saved hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of imported mineral fertilisers. The current recycling level is around 200,000 tonnes per annum and rising.

Maxine Perella

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