Brexit is on the top of news agendas across the UK – but what does this mean for co-operatives?
On the surface, there is very little impact to the co-operative model itself. Co-operatives are not directly regulated by Brussels, though the EU does recommend the development of co-operatives in member states. And there is the option to register a European Co-operative Society to allow simple trade across the continent, but no UK-based co-op has registered one.
Speaking to contributors across the movement, they are largely united in the view that trade across Europe is likely to be the main impact of leaving the EU, which, of course, affects all businesses.
One of the largest sectors within the movement affected will be agriculture. With an estimated turnover of £6.2bn, agricultural co-ops are currently benefiting from the EU-wide Common Agricultural Policy. Over a six-year period until 2020, the UK was due to receive €25.1bn in direct payments from the EU CAP.
The EU itself is akin to one big co-operative […] but no relationship between members and the governing body is always sweet.
The Scottish example we feature shows that income from farming has reduced by 20% from 2013, to £665m in 2015 – of that, £450m is subsidies. In Scotland, agricultural co-ops support the country’s food and drink industry, which accounts for around a quarter of the workforce.
Other big co-op sectors include retail and housing – but these are largely managed on a national basis with very little directive from the EU, besides employment and environmental legislation.
A number of years ago, the co-operative retail sector was looking at joining an EU-wide buying group to increase its buying power and bring down the costs of products such as Heinz Baked Beans and Coca-Cola.
This never happened, but closer co-operation with the European Union would likely make such an initiative easier in future.
Energy co-operatives are a growing sector that is increasingly looking to Europe for help and assistance. Certainly EU environmental policies will help support the growth of community-owned energy projects, especially when the sector feels largely marginalised by the actions of the UK government around taxation and other benefits.
The political view from the Co-operative Party, Co-operatives Europe and former International Co-operative Alliance president and MEP Dame Pauline Green describes how the UK will be missing on co-operation with the EU.
The EU itself is akin to one big co-operative, with member states pooling resources, coming together for the greater benefit and supporting each other. But no relationship between members and the governing body is always sweet.
So as we approach the final countdown to the referendum, the vote is largely a personal decision for the people.
While some companies have already chimed in with their business-oriented views, many others are respecting democracy and waiting for what the people decide.
- You can find all our coverage of the Brexit, and how it could relate to co-ops, here.