Fifty years of friendship and finance – meet Andy Love

In our series interviewing our friends from the last fifty years, today we meet Andy LoveAndy was a Trustee from 1993 to 2022 and was the PLC shareholders representative on the board for most of this time.

“In many ways, I’ve been a lifelong co-operator. I’ve been involved in various sectors of the Movement over many years. Some of my earliest involvement was with retail cooperatives – the shops on the high street. Much of my early involvement was in a London context.

When Ken Livingstone was elected as London’s Mayor, one of the first steps he took was to set up an organisation called the London Co-operative Enterprise Board. It was a revolving loan fund, very much like ICOF, but with a regional, London specific remit. I was asked to become a trustee of that Board and when they broke up, some years later, I worked closely with ICOF to ensure the remaining funds were retained within the co-operative sector

In the late 80’s, ICOF launched its second ethical share offer – known as the PLC. I was heavily involved in trying to ensure that it was a success not only because we needed it to be a success in its own right, raising as it did a million pounds. But this had to be achieved against the backdrop of the demutualisation mania – selling off ownership of our Building Societies, the savings of which built up over many generations of members would be squandered. We had to make the argument for investing in our Movement not disinvesting as happened in far too many cases.  It was touch and go but we are still here giving the Banks a good run for their money!

For some years I had been living in North London and was working with local Co-op development agencies and many other linked organisations including worker co-operators. Through those contacts I was able to get to know them much better.  When it was suggested that I consider becoming a Trustee of ICOF, one of the obstacles that I faced was that I’d never had direct experience of working within a worker cooperative. To resolve this issue I was invited to stand as the PLC shareholders representative. I already had a personal investment in the PLC, so that cleared the decks and I became a trustee in 1992.  But for how long I remained a trustee is a source of some dispute!

In 1997, I was elected as a member of parliament. That brought new responsibilities which were inevitably going to take up all of my time and I suggested that the Board should look into electing a new representative at the next AGM. For a variety of reasons, that didn’t happen. Whether you subscribe to the idea that I was such a good trustee that the Board couldn’t afford to lose me, or perhaps more accurately that having an MP on the front cover of the annual report looked good. For the first few years I explained the omission as ICOF having granted me extended leave. But that had worn very thin by the time I left Parliament eighteen years later!

When I first joined ICOF, I was struck by the different culture and the different ways in which people thought about the problems they faced. Retail coops are individual shops where members can purchase food and other goods and services. They’re part of regional and national co-operatives competing with the likes of Tesco’s and Asda.  So they wear their cooperative principles rather lightly compared to worker cooperatives, where all members are expected to play a role in the business. There’s little sympathy for the idea of the worker member ‘just’ being an employee.  Coming from a retail cooperative background, I found this unusual, but I came to appreciate the benefits.

Co-operators should cooperate with each other, but often they don’t. Some of it is to do with culture and values. When looking back its important to reflect on what we got right and what we got wrong, I’ve taken the view over the years that a particular danger is an obsession with structures to the exclusion of like-minded organisations.

I would like to see social ownership companies being taken seriously as part of the wider movement. This should strengthen the sector and bring fresh energy into the cooperative movement There is an urgent need for improved education amongst co-operators. This should, initially, take the form of a lively debate on the future of the Co-operative Movement.

Happy Birthday ICOF. Who would believe that you would still be here, offering a wide range of services to the workers democratic movement in this country? It’s a great pleasure and honour for me to be asked to contribute to this anthology of reflections.  I have always felt at home in your movement; you have kept me abreast of developments when I wasn’t able to play a full part in your deliberations. And you continue to argue the case for why we need democracy in business in this country. Long may you continue to do so. Long may you prosper and grow, and long may you be relevant to the members you represent and the businesses that you support. It’s been a notable 50 years. Let’s make the next 50 even better.”