In the days following the results of the EU referendum, the wall-to-wall Brexit coverage largely united around one question: what do we do now?
Not even the 52% who voted to leave the European Union could have imagined the scale of market panic that followed. A record USD$3tn was wiped off global markets in two days and the pound fell to its weakest level in three decades against the dollar.
One thing co-operatives can do right now – and are doing – is co-operate in the face of this uncertainty
For co-operatives in the UK – and for retail co-ops in particular – what happens next is largely dependent on the triggering of the now famous Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. When the clocks start the two-year countdown to formal exit of the EU, co-operative eyes will focus on the negotiations around access to the single European market, and how this will affect future prices of goods and movement of people.
One thing co-operatives can do right now – and are doing – is co-operate in the face of this uncertainty, both with each other in the UK, and with the wider European co-operative community.
The Co-operative Party and social enterprise bodies have called for continued confidence in the mutual model. And Richard Pennycook, chief executive of the Co-operative Group, wrote to The Times newspaper on 29 June, highlighting the concerns of those EU citizens living in the UK, and UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU.
“In the Co-op, we have many thousands of valued colleagues who find themselves in this position,” he wrote. “The free movement of people will be a key area of negotiation between our government and other member states, and we would urge the negotiators to draw a distinction, rapidly, between those already here and those who may wish to come in the future.”
Mr Pennycook followed this up with another open letter, co-authored by Ed Mayo (secretary general of Co-operatives UK, and a board member of Cooperatives Europe) and Colin Macleod (chief executive of Channel Islands Co-operative Society and a board member of Euro Coop), to the presidents and boards of Euro Coop and Cooperatives Europe, and other European co-operators.
“The values and principles of the international co-op movement transcend national borders,” they wrote. “At this crucial time they can be a powerful force in uniting and strengthening communities, which may feel increased pressure and tension as a result of recent events.”
Co-ops serve members most effectively and strengthen the co-op movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.
While one such structure is changing shape, retail co-operatives can use this challenge as a chance to innovate.
So let’s think positively. Disruptive times are also times to explore new technologies and collaborate with like-minded businesses. They are an opportunity to grow as an organisation – and to develop better ways of working for and serving their members.