Our reflections on The Co-op Economy 2019

7215 independent co-ops in the UK

233,733 people employed by co-ops.

13.7 million members.

Annual turnover £37.7 billion.

We are always proud to be part of the vibrant co-operative economy, but when reports like Co-operatives UK ‘The Co-op Economy 2019’ come out and reveal numbers like these, it’s a wonderful opportunity to take a moment, pause and reflect on how things are going.

No-one would say that everything is rosy here in the UK at the moment, but what’s clear is that in many ways co-ops are bucking the trend with 72% of co-ops flourishing after the first five years of business, compared to 43% of companies.

It’s interesting to note, though, the slight drop in the number of co-ops. There are 51 fewer in operation than a year ago and 41 fewer started in 2019 than in 2018.

A slowing rate of new start-ups is a serious concern as is the decline in registered worker-owned co-ops, down 52 from 492 in 2015 to 440 in 2019.

We at Co-operative and Community Finance have lent to over half of the ‘worker co-ops’ in the report’s top ten list over the past 46 years and been delighted to see them grow as a result. To see the sector in decline is frustrating. We frequently challenge ourselves to do more and are in discussions with other co-operative development organisations and practitioners to develop a new approach to promote the worker co-op model. How do you think this could be done better?

We will, of course, continue to be part of conversations across the wider family of co-op and community business sectors and are always keen to understand what we could do to grow the co-op economy as a whole– do tell us if you have ideas. Recently, for example, we were proud to be at the table for important discussions with Government, looking in from outside with them to see what support can be provided across the nation. We look forward to more progressive thinking from the government; whoever that may be.

We would agree with the report that the sector is ‘yet to reach critical mass’. It is, in fact, far from it, and we are committed to being part of it getting there. We know how much interest there is and how much potential there is, and we also know that Worker and Community Ownership makes business better. Not only are co-ops more resilient, but more responsive to the needs of local people and communities. Whatever happens next, we will be there to provide the finance it needs.