Editorial: Sector takes action in 2015

Action is one word to describe an eclectic year for the co-operative sector. Whether at a local, national or international level, people and co-operatives have individually and collectively...

Action is one word to describe an eclectic year for the co-operative sector.

Whether at a local, national or international level, people and co-operatives have individually and collectively worked for one another. Sometimes when facing challenges.

For example, the growth of community co-operatives has been on the rise for years. The number of community shops climbed from 325 to 337, while another five co-op pubs opened taking the total to 39.

However, community energy projects faced a struggle as the policy framework supporting the sector has been pulled apart with benefits such tax relief being removed. Before a ‘tax relief’ deadline of 30 November, 24 schemes reached their targets.

But it hasn’t just been the energy sector that the government has been targeting. Housing co-ops have received unwanted attention following the government’s decision to reduce the rents for registered providers by 1% each year for four years.

This is despite housing co-ops being supported wholly by the Welsh government that has helped to fund a total of 25 projects.

Communities have benefited from other forms of government intervention such as the Localism Act, which has allowed the protection of community assets, such as pubs and football stadia.

And this has been paying off, since assets financed through community shares has been on the increase too with 93 share offers raising £58m – up from 64 and £34m the previous year.

Co-operatives UK has recognised the need for a much more level playing field. In 2016, it will be focusing on business regulation and community ownership to ensure the sector gets a fair deal. It will be hoping to capitalise on some of the political goodwill the sector has received over the past year.

Most of the political parties contending seats at the general election backed co-operatives in one form or another. And Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is talking about a more collaborative/co-operative economy.

People working together more has become a common theme too. The number of employee-owned businesses has increased by 4.6% on last year to be worth £30bn. And of those workers working for themselves, a number of worker co-operatives and its members have come together to launch a solidarity fund to help support the sector.

Despite the £1bn fall in turnover for UK co-operatives, following the loss of the Co-operative Bank, the fact that these stats exist shows the importance of a co-operative economy. The positive spin on these results is that co-ops have grown by 15% since 2010.

Gathering more intelligence, and looking at the trends of the sector will help to get across the message of co-operatives much more easily.

And now the International Co-operative Alliance is working to visualise the importance of the sector through an international marketing campaign to help raise awareness of the business model. The ‘Co-operatives for a Better World’ campaign aims to start small by making employees and members aware of what it is to be co-op. From there, the campaign hopes to extend the marketing messages to include the general public.

By continuing to build upon our collective knowledge, co-operatives will be much better placed to talk to people and communities, as well as policy makers that have the power to ensure the sector is getting a fair deal. Only co-operative businesses can collaborate on such a massive scale. Let 2016 be a strong year to show our difference.

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