Despite the difficult times and the crisis faced by the biggest co-operative enterprise in the country, the sector is proving that values-based organisations can thrive.
The co-operative sector contributes £37 billion a year to the British economy. It’s made up of nearly 6,800 independent businesses and it has already reached a record 15 million members.
These are some of the results of The UK Co-operative Economy 2015 report, just published by Co-operatives UK, the trade body for co-operatives in the country. The document shows that, even if it hasn’t been a dream year for the biggest co-operative in the country -The Co-operative Group- and this has inevitably affected the whole sector’s figures (there has been a slight 2,8% decline on last year’s turnover), co-operatives are still performing well. A total growth of its turnover and membership of 15% since 2010 sounds like good news to me!
Customer owned retailers still account for the largest proportion of the sector’s turnover (40%), although the employee owned retailer, the John Lewis Partnership, is now the single largest co-operative business in the country.
Energy, agriculture and social care are the fast growing sectors. Farmer owned co-operatives have grown by almost a third, from £4.8 billion to £6.2 billion since 2010, and co-operatives operating in health and social care have grown by half again, from £40 to £60 million.
Nevertheless, the biggest area of success is energy, with the combination of a flourishing renewable energy co-operative sector and the start-up of Co-operative Energy in 2010 — which now has 213,000 customers. In 2010 energy co-ops generated £18 million; today they generate £260 million.
Co-operatives cover every industry, from retail giants and agricultural heavyweights through to quirky newcomers producing goods as diverse as noodles, knickers and news. Not only do they create wealth, but they also build more resilient businesses: according to national statistics only 41% of all businesses in the UK survive their first five years, whereas 80% of co-operatives are still going strong in this period. It’s the power of co-operation.
“The Co-operative Group is coming out of a challenging period into one of renewal, and this of course has had an impact on the sector. Yet innovation and growth amongst co-operatives large and small have meant that the co-operative sector is growing and in good health.» (Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Co-operatives UK).
To read the full report, click here.
The launch of the UK’s Cooperative Economy report coincides with the celebration of Co-operatives Fortnight, an annual campaign which invites co-ops to get together and show the world why they are a better way of doing business.
This year, co-operatives have been asked to take part in the Big Co-op Clean. By getting their staff cleaning up a local park, their members helping out an elderly neighbour or their customers clearing out old clothes for charity, co-operatives are demonstrating that when people work together they achieve so much more than they do alone. To find out more about this campaign, visit www.uk.coop