A National Co-operative Development Strategy has been kick-started this year by a number of co-operative organisations – and the first public meeting with co-operators took place at this month’s Co-operative Congress.
With leadership from Co-operatives UK, the strategy is bringing together ideas from co-operative development workers and the wider co-operative sector.
It will firstly define ‘what is co-operative development’, before moving on to defining what the co-op sector wants to achieve – and how to achieve it.
Investment in co-operative development has worked before. Back in the 1970s, it saw the number of worker co-operatives increase from 20 to 900 in the space of around 10 years.The number of co-op development agencies (CDAs) in the UK grew steadily in the 1980s to around 100, with local authority support.
But since the National Co-operative Development Agency closed in 1990, the funding and number of CDAs decreased.
Now there are the equivalent of 40.5 full time co-op development posts within the sector. Ten of those are in Wales, with four in Scotland.
In England, many former CDAs have rebranded to provide general support for social enterprises.
At Congress, the Strategic Reference Panel came together with delegates to discuss the draft strategy framework.
Participants looked at excellence, innovation and working together within the co-operative sector. Delegates called for tools to examine the social impact of the co-op principles, and to focus on education of what a co-op is.
Marketing campaigns can help to explain what co-ops do, while communication is vital between co-operatives to increase inter-sector co-operation.
Another area being explored by the panel is which sectors have the best growth potential. Where should funds go? In the 1970s it was worker co-operatives.
Today, worker co-operatives are particularly relevant – especially when companies such as Tata Steel and BHS put the jobs and pensions of workers at risk. Employee ownership has been growing so much more over the past few years.
Co-operative development is even more important now that the country has voted to leave Europe
Another area of focus must also be tech co-ops. Young people are recognising co-operative values as a way to do business in the 21st century with the growth of platform and co-working co-ops.
But, to achieve a full National Co-operative Development Strategy, co-operation is needed across the movement. Financial and strategic support is needed to kick-start growth in the sector.
Co-operative development is even more important now that the country has voted to leave Europe. Simply put, the UK will go it alone and what better way to do this than with a business model that is self-sustaining and owned by the people. While Brexit goes against the wishes of many co-operators, there is an opportunity and a need for the UK to be more innovative and integrate co-op values into society.