Responsibility for co-operatives should be shifted to a single government department, says Co-operatives UK.
According to the sector’s apex body, the division of responsibility for co-ops being between the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Treasury means they are not on a level playing field with other forms of business. It suggests that co-operatives don’t benefit from certain business reforms, and shoulder extra burdens and costs.
Co-operatives UK has identified a number of issues that stem from co-operative policy being split across different departments, including burdensome account reporting and audit requirements, marginalisation in employee ownership policy and exclusions from some business support schemes.
It also suggests that the Government’s deregulation agenda stops short of providing for most co-operatives, and that New Business Impact Targets are designed for conventional companies and community and voluntary organisations, but take no account of mutuals.
Adrian Bailey, Labour/Co-op MP for West Bromwich West and former chair of the BIS select committee in Westminster, has backed Co-operatives UK’s proposal. He believes that moving responsibility for co-ops from HM Treasury to BIS “makes perfect sense”.
He said: “While the Treasury has to concentrate on fiscal policy, little attention can be paid to co-operatives. Indeed, the Treasury remit is so wide that co-operative policy is unlikely to ever be a high priority.
“BIS has the specific responsibility to create an environment that is suitable for all businesses, which I believe would best ensure that co-ops are able to benefit from all schemes that benefit business, and are designed to help them grow.
“Because of this, I believe that there is a very strong case to move the policy function of co-operatives from HM Treasury to BIS.”
Ed Mayo, Co-operatives UK secretary general, agreed that “the single most effective way to address this is to transfer responsibility to BIS”.
“It is an ambitious but important move,” he added.
- Co-operatives UK is currently canvassing the support of its members on the proposal, who can take part in an online poll at www.uk.coop/bis-move until the end of February.