Co-operatives grow at twice the rate of the UK economy

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British co-operatives have outperformed the UK economy for the fourth consecutive year.

Annual figures released today by Co-operatives UK, show the British movement has grown 1.5% in 2011, which is twice the rate of 0.7% in the UK economy.

The sector has coped well with the financial crisis and while the real level of GDP in the UK in 2011 is 1.7%, the turnover of the co-operative sector has grown by 19.5% over the same period.

Following the publication of the report Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Co-operatives UK, said: “This is good news for business and for our new emerging economy. At a time where our economic system is undergoing fundamental change and critical analysis as to its suitability for the future, this is evidence that broadening ownership and control, prioritising social and environmental impact alongside profit is a resilient alternative to austerity.

“Co-operative businesses are more resilient, 98% are still in operation after three years compared to 65% of all businesses, over half of them (56%) are in disadvantaged areas in the UK and 88% seek to minimize their environmental impact when 44% of businesses say they have taken no action whatsoever.”

The movement's annual report, which covers 5,933 co-operatives, indicates that the model of sharing ownership and control with members not shareholders, while benefiting the society and addressing environmental concerns, is a successful one. The Co-operative Group, John Lewis Partnership, Midlands Co-operative Society and United Merchants are among the largest co-operatives from the 2011 financial year.

See the top 100 co-operatives on the interactive UK map below:

Co-operatives have been a key to further development in particular areas such as renewable energy, where co-operatives provide power, profits and strength to communities. Co-operatives operating in these sectors have witnessed the widest growth. The 242 co-operative schools now owned and controlled by communities, teachers, parents and pupils across the country, which are new additions to the economy report, also benefitted from a significant growth.

In 2011, the number of memberships grew by 5.5% to 13.5m people (12.8m in 2010). Between 2008 and 2011 the number of memberships grew by 19.7% from 11.3m. Last year the number of co-operatives grew by 8.9% to 5,933. Between 2008 and 2011 the numbers grew by 23% from 4,820.

The UK is currently confronting itself with a growth crisis and co-operatives could be the key to attaining economic growth, according to Mr Mayo: “Co-operatives are part of a solution. They provide alternatives to austerity by offering a model of business in which ownership and control is shared. The growth of the co-operative sector helps introduce more diversity and wider ownership into the economy.

“What we are seeing is that co-operatives are businesses, which combine commercial performance with social and environmental values. You can see these across the world — from the ongoing community share schemes for renewable energy up and down the UK or the innovative way in which large co-operatives like the Indian farmers fertiliser co-operative in India practice sustainability. And it is not just businesses of course — co-operation and sharing is the key to more sustainability”.

With regards to whether it should be expected for the co-operative economy to outperform market next year again, Mr Mayo added: “As the UK co-operative economy 2012 report shows, over 70% of the co-operative economy is in the retail sector and there is no question that times are tough on the high street. Co-operative retailers have a great track record, but there is no escaping the fundamentals of a tough economic outlook.”

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