Risk online banking? The Co-operative Bank’s alternative

As Co-operative Bank branches (and those of several other banks) close in several areas, including Swindon, Warrington, Taunton and Tunstall (above), customers are directed in two directions:

  • to stand in long queues and pay in and draw out money at post offices (a cumbersome process I’m told)
  • or to sign up for online banking.

But online bank fraud is the UK’s fastest growing area of crime – doubling from £60m in 2014 to an expected total beyond £130m this year – and the losses to consumers have in some cases been of the life-changing order of £90,000 each.

The National Audit Office records that the volume of online ‘card not present’ fraud increased by 103% between 2011 and 2016


All web-based services such as online banking are subject to risks such as online theft of your access code/user ID/username, PIN/password, virus attacks, hacking, unauthorized access and fraudulent transactions.

Ross Anderson, a professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge’s computer laboratory, and one of Britain’s foremost experts on cybersecurity, says he has never banked online – and has no plans to do so. He believes that system has become so weighted in favour of the banks that it is now the customers that carry all the risk. If a man who has chronicled the rise of online banking won’t use it, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Allow customers the choice

A reader who banks with the Co-operative Bank was firmly encouraged towards online banking a few days ago when phoning to transfer funds. The impression was given that this was essential, but when pressed the staff member admitted it was not. Indeed she wavered a great deal more when it was pointed out that her job could well be eliminated with the closing down of telephone operations. The telephone service is more secure and has proved reliable.

The Co-operative Bank’s new chairman, Bob Dench, takes over next month as Dennis Holt retires at 70. In a statement Mr Holt said, “The Co-operative Bank has been through challenging times in the past four years as it has worked hard to fix the legacy issues that led to the crisis it faced in late 2013. It now has solid foundations and a clear pathway to sustainable profitability and robust capital resilience”.




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February event: co-operatives take up Jeremy Corbyn’s challenge


On Friday 16 February from 9.45am – 4.30pm, co-operatives will gather to take up Jeremy Corbyn’s challenge of providing a clear strategy to create a dynamic, sustainable co-operative Britain. 

The organiser, Co-operative Business Consultants is a co-operative consortium of individuals and organisations committed to social justice through solidarity co-ops. We operate in the UK and Ireland. 

Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey will be keynote speaker at the 2018 ‘Ways Forward 6’ conference, an annual event organised by CBC. The event brings co-operative representatives and consultants from across the country together with trades unionists and social entrepreneurs to develop a framework for building a co-operative economy.

The Ways Forward conferences originated in the crisis of the Co-op Group and Bank in 2014 when it was felt that the situation was so important that it required urgent discussion by the co-operative movement and the left as a whole.  The conference was a success and since 2014 Co-operative Business Consultants has organised the annual non profit-making event to keep alight the flame of open, honest and frank discussion regarding the major issues facing the co-operative movement. Past keynote speakers include John McDonnell, Ken Loach, Matt Wrack (FBU Gen Secretary), Angela Rayner and Sheila Coleman (Hillsborough Campaign and Unite).

This year, delegates have been asked to rise to the challenge laid down by Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who commented recently: “I want the public ownership of water, Royal Mail and energy, but I don’t want it to be necessarily a huge state model. I’d rather there was a co-op principle in the way it is run.” and who challenged, “the wider co-operative movement to come forward with your ideas, your enthusiasm, your energy.”

Organisers and sponsors

Sponsors of the conference include leading organisations in the co-operative movement, such as the Co-operative Party and the co-operative umbrella organisation, Co-operatives UK. They share the widespread belief that the British economy is in permanent crisis and cannot solve its productivity malaise without the conscious democratic involvement of employees and consumers in the running of industry, commerce and public services.

This year’s conference, for co-operatives, social enterprises, the labour movement and social justice activists, focusses on discussing how co-operative methods can be adapted and developed as part of Labour’s focus on co-operation as a key part of its economic development proposals – especially regarding national industries such as energy. Trade union involvement will be crucial if this plan is to bear fruit.

Early Bird Offer (payment received by 31st Jan): Organisation delegates £60, Individuals £45. Fees include lunch & refreshments. A limited number of Bursary Places are available.

To book places or get more details, go to our Eventbrite page. Contact Jo Bird 07970 075704 (jo@cbc.coop) further details or media passes, or if you wish to sponsor or have a stall.




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Update: Scotland the Bread co-operative provides fairly traded nutritious bread, locally grown, milled and baked


Nick Drainey in Scots Magazine adds to news of this three year old co-operative, first mentioned in our September post about Co-operative & Community Finance collaborating with other funds to develop community food and farming businesses.

His article, republished on the view from the hill website, focusses first on Andrew Whitley (left) is one of seven directors of Scotland the Bread, which aims to take old varieties of wheat ignored for centuries, grow them organically and create loaves which are more nutritious than anything to be found on supermarket shelves.

A visit in the early 1990s to post-communist Russia enabled him to study sourdough and he then launched a range of naturally-fermented breads that met a growing demand from people in the UK who found they could no longer tolerate factory loaves. Increasingly concerned with the state of British bread, he did a Masters in Food Policy at City University, London, researching the changes in grains, agriculture and baking methods that seemed to be making our basic food less nutritious and less digestible.

For the last three years Mr Whitley has been researching and bringing “heritage” specimens from seed banks across the world, including Russia, the US, France, Scandinavia and the UK. He then grows these seeds, many not used for decades but kept in case they become useful again, with the purpose of discovering the most nutritious grains that can be grown in Scotland.

Scotland the Bread is now using a network of growers across Scotland, including himself, farmers and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, to plant the seeds he has found and see which can grow best in Scottish conditions. Once harvested, they are sent to laboratories to be tested for their nutritional qualities.

Mr Whitley questions the need for imported modern varieties of wheat which he says are based around intensive chemical fertilisers, pesticides and fungicides. As well as having to be fortified with minerals, the modern varieties also cause health problems, there are more of the protein epitopes that are known to trigger coeliac and similar responses in modern varieties than older ones.

Local bakeries, rooted in their communities, can supply fresh, properly fermented bread to nearby customers, conserving nutritional value without recourse to the synthetic additives that are deemed essential for long-distance loaves.

Agriculture and food processing account for 18-20% of UK annual greenhouse gas emissions, so reducing the distance between field and plate, and limiting the use of fossil fuel-dependent inputs and the energy intensity of processing all make sense as part of a joined-up carbon reduction strategy.

Growing more of our own bread wheat would contribute to food sovereignty in an unpredictable global marketplace and, depending on how it is done, could bring meaningful jobs back home too.

Above all, the soaring cost – both personal and financial – of diet-related ill health in Scotland makes creative action urgent. If people, especially those on modest incomes and with limited capacity (including the old and the very young), are to be better nourished, exhortation from health authorities is not enough: there has to be an accessible and affordable supply of appropriate food.

Above all, ‘fair trade’ arrangements between farmers, millers and bakers are needed to ensure equitable rewards and honest prices that also allow for the variability of the weather and thus of grain quality. 




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Next move: will worker co-operatives help the Co-operative Group to learn how to operate democratically?

After contacting the worker co-operatives to update the directory, Mary Holmes wrote:In a world awash with lyrical mission statements about ‘excellence’, ‘service’ and ‘ethical dimensions’ worker co-ops actually have their values at the centre of the business not just as add-on extras. Worker co-operatives are businesses which are democratically controlled by the employees. Internationally recognised co-operative principles also include: equitable distribution of any surplus, limited return on capital, co-operation between co-operatives, and social and educational aims”.

A worker co-op weekend in May, hosted by Co-operatives UK, is aimed at worker co-operatives to help them learn, share and be inspired by each other. The Co-operative News reports that the programme is made up of practical sessions designed and run by worker co-ops and covers a range of topics.

The Co-operative News link leads to a video about the 2015 event

This year the event will be at: Kibblestone Scout Camp. This is a unique event:

  • Designed and run by worker co-ops, for worker co-ops
  • Food is sourced from co-operatives like Essential and Suma, with bread from Infinity, Beer from Bartlebys Brewery and veg from Unicorn Grocery
  • Vegan friendly catering – with food prepared by volunteers
  • Camping and campfires.

According to the News website the event is now fully booked – but for those hoping for a cancellation we add that this is a low cost back-to-basics event (bring tent, limited number of  dormitory or private rooms (bring bedding/sleeping bag).

Members of worker co-operatives were, Ms Holmes found, “extraordinarily nice people to deal with deal with. They returned completed questionnaires in time and apologised if they were late. Telephone calls were responded to by pleasant well-informed people who spoke with enthusiasm about their organisation. All this in a modern business environment where companies are usually barricaded behind automated switchboards, and replies to requests for information are not always immediate”.

Would a weekend be long enough to enable worker co-operatives to teach the Co-operative Group how to operate democratically?






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The Employee Ownership Association Annual Conference

The Employee Ownership Association Annual Conference

The Employee Ownership Association (EOA) 12th Annual Conference represents organisations which are employee owned or transitioning to employee ownership. This growing sector employs over 200,000 employee owners across the UK. More than 700 attendees are expected to gather on the 27 and 28 November at the NEC Hilton Metropole. The programme, including news of awards to be presented, may be downloaded here.

One of several case-studies:

Page\Park is an architectural firm based in Glasgow that made the transition to employee ownership in December 2013. Since then, the business has recruited 12 new employee-owners, increasing its staff to a total of 54, to meet the growth in demand for their services – a positive commercial upturn which owners attribute in part to their transition to employee ownership.

This year’s conference will present the contribution employee owned businesses make to the economy – offering increased productivity, growth, resilience and good corporate behaviour. Delegates will hear from and share best practice with SMEs and global businesses that are employee owned or are exploring employee ownership and meet experts in subjects linked to employee ownership, from funding finance to engagement.

Founded in 1979 by journalist Robert Oakeshott and originally called Job Ownership Ltd (JOL), the EOA was established with the help of companies such as the John Lewis Partnership and international polymers manufacturer Scott Bader.

The EOA campaigns on behalf of members, with policy makers, the media, Government and a range of other audiences, winning the support of all three main political parties.






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Co-operative Bank donates £20,000 to emergency appeal for co-ops hit by natural disasters

Devastation on the island of Jost Van Dyke after Hurricane Irma

Anca Voinea reports, in the Co-operative News, that the Co-operative Bank has donated £20,000 to Co-operatives UK’s appeal fund set up to help co-ops in countries affected by the recent spate of national disasters. The World Disaster campaign led by Co-operatives UK aims to help co-operatives to recover after severe floods in South East Asia and hurricanes across the Caribbean devastated their communities.

Co-operatives UK’s appeal will channel funds through the International Co-operative Alliance to enable long-term support to reach co-operatives in affected countries. The emergency fund will be distributed to co-ops on the ground in these areas in order to allow them to rebuild. The Bank’s donation will be split equally between co-ops in the Caribbean and South East Asia.

Liam Coleman, chief executive at the Bank, said: “The recent natural disasters in Asia and the Caribbean are a human tragedy with lives, homes and livelihoods lost as a result of the devastation. Our donation, along with those from the wider co-operative movement, will help those communities who need it most – by giving long-term sustainable development to those co-operatives who play such an important role.

“As a bank that is defined by its values and ethics, our co-operative heritage and on-going commitment to the co-operative sector is vitally important to us and we hope this donation can make a real difference to co-operators who are rebuilding after recent events.”

Ed Mayo, chief executive of Co-operatives UK, said: “The floods and storms are devastating the lives of millions of people. We know that co-ops offer a vital tool for people to rebuild their homes and livelihoods together. We are encouraging UK co-ops to donate what they can to this emergency appeal to support the development of co-operatives that will aid long-term sustainable reconstruction. This is people-to-people support.”

Donations to the emergency fund can be made by contacting Co-operatives UK, emailing finance@uk.coop indicating the amount organisations wish to donate and their preference to contribute to development in south-east Asia or the Caribbean.






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