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?






Posted in Co-operative Group, Co-operative movement, Co-operative News, Co-operatives UK, Democratic participation, Education, Ethics, Worker co-operatives | Tagged | Leave a comment

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 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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Co-operative & Community Finance collaborates with other funds to develop community food and farming businesses

In March, at the Responsible Finance conference, Co-operative & Community Finance won the Citi Microentrepreneurship Award for Effective Partnership for its work with the Just Growth Fund, which supports businesses in community food and farming. Tim Coomer, CCF’s Business Development Manager referred to collaboration with Funding Enlightened Agriculture (FEA) and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, which has unlocked grant, loan and social investment for this work.

Co-operative & Community Finance has made loans to four enterprises via the fund:

Bread Matters notes that in 2015, Scotland produced over one million tons of wheat, most of it sold as animal feed, to distilleries or as ‘biofuels’. As the country’s breadmakers rely on wheat imports, Bread Matters have searched for more nutritious bread wheats, suitable for low-impact farming. Scotland the Bread sells this specialist grain and flour and runs bakery courses for community groups.

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.

The cost of diet-related ill health in Scotland is soaring, and if people, especially those on modest incomes, the old and the very young, are to be better nourished, there has to be an accessible and affordable supply of appropriate food. Local bakeries can supply fresh, properly fermented bread to nearby customers, without the synthetic additives deemed essential for long-distance loaves.

A Community Benefit Society will be set up to ensure that this work is focussed on people not profit.

The vital importance of ‘fair trade’ is stressed

Arrangements between farmers, millers and bakers should ensure equitable rewards and honest prices that also allow for the variability of the weather which affects grain quality

Scotland the Bread: an ethical investment






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‘How can West Midlands councils build community wealth?’

In celebration of the Co-op Party centenary this event is an absolute must for all those interested in transforming the West Midlands region by reorganising local economies and supporting communities to help themselves.

                                       First outing at the 2017 Durham Miners’ Gala

Lucy Seymour-Smith writes:

In times of austerity, services, organisations and communities are being starved of the funds needed to survive and grow.

We cannot regenerate or communities by relying on large organisations who can, and do relocate according to their own financially driven agenda.

Instead we need a new approach to regeneration framed around co-operative values of self-help, participation, social responsibility and democratic accountability that is led by organisations that have a genuine long-term stake in our communities.

Panel speakers include:

Liam Byrne MP

Claire Campbell, UNISON Head of Local Government

Anna Birley, Coop party policy officer and Labour/Coop Party Cabinet Member in Lambeth

                                Thursday 14th September, 5.30 for 6pm start.

UNISON Regional Office, 24 Livery Street, B32PA (next to the Old Contemptibles and opposite Snow Hill Station)

                                       *Spaces limited so sign up quickly*

                                                 nibbles and networking





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The Co-op Bank rescue plan

Earlier this month Save our Bank updated its 10,000 supporters – 1,500 of whom have become members of the Customer Union for Ethical Banking:

At the end of June the Co-op Bank announced that it had reached agreement on a capital raising plan, “to secure the long-term future of the UK’s leading ethical bank”. The bank’s announcement is here [PDF].

The deal – and bear in mind it’s not formally agreed yet – means the bank will raise £700m in capital from its existing investors, principally US hedge funds, and that the Co-operative Group’s stake will fall from 20% currently to under 1%, with the relationship between the Group and Bank reaching a formal end by 2020. £250m of the total will be raised through selling new shares, and the remainder through investors agreeing to swap their bonds for shares. The bank will also have a separate pension fund from the Group as part of the arrangement.

How does the deal measure up against our aims?

Our campaign was established with two main aims – to make sure the bank sticks to its ethical policy, and to help it ultimately return to cooperative ownership. This deal is clearly a set-back for the second of those aims. The bank’s cooperative ownership is being reduced to next to nothing. This means that the Co-op Group will lose the right to appoint a director to the bank’s Board and Values & Ethics Committee, that the right of bank customers to become members of the Group will end, and that the Group will no longer market the bank’s products. But the impact of this from a customer point of view may not be that significant. While the Group’s stake made the bank “20% cooperatively owned” in theory, in practice the bank was managed independently of the Group, with no clear channels for Co-op members to try to make or influence decisions at the bank. (In fact we think we’ve had much more influence over the bank as a group of organised customers than we could ever have had through the Group’s democratic channels.) There are upsides as well. The bank’s ethical policy does not seem to be under threat from this deal. We think it would have been had it been absorbed by a larger bank, as seemed likely earlier on in this process. The bank is independent, and we hope the deal will secure its long-term future as promised. We’re also mindful that the hedge fund owners are not in this for the long-term; they will want an exit at some point, and a return to cooperative ownership must be on the table when that time comes.

The Co-op Bank should emerge from this process with less debt, and with a stand-alone pension scheme, making it a more attractive investment for cooperative capital. With shares in the bank at a low price, this would be a good time to move forward with our plans to build a new cooperatively-owned stake in the bank, through the cooperative Customer Union. But we also need to see how the Co-op Bank plans to live up to its commitment to support cooperative values after it severs its links with the Co-op Group.

Co-operatives UK has spoken, and determined that the bank can continue to use its current name, despite the further drop in cooperative ownership. Co-operatives UK has criteria for non-cooperatives like the bank using the ‘Co-operative’ name, and these are not related to ownership. Although it seems jarring for the bank to keep using the name “The Co-operative Bank” while it is not a cooperative (and never has been, in the strict sense), the name can be seen as reflecting its role as a bank for the cooperative sector. Given the bank’s history, its support for cooperatives, and its position as the largest provider of financial services to cooperatives, this is legitimate, although the bank needs to do more to show how it supports cooperative values and principles in light of the ownership change.

What does this mean for the Save Our Bank campaign and the Customer Union? 

As we said at the start of this update, this deal is not yet done, and depends on the agreement of bondholders as well as the success of the new share issue. Once it is complete (assuming it succeeds), we’ll urgently seek a meeting with the bank to ask for more details about how it will preserve cooperative values after its break with the Co-op Group. We want to see the bank develop a plan to grow cooperative ownership when and if the hedge funds sell up, and we want to work with the bank on ways for customers to have a real say at the bank.





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