2017 in review: Top stories from the co-op movement

A look back on the highlights from the past year in Co-op News


The 2017 New Year Honours list included an award for Dorothy Francis, chief executive of Leicester-based Co-operative And Social Enterprise support agency (CASE). Ms Francis, who has worked in the movement for 35 years, has been given an MBE for “services to enterprise and the communities”.

The USA’s largest independent co-op of organic farmers, CROPP – which trades as Organic Valley – has set up a 50/50 joint venture with Dean Foods, the country’s largest dairy processor and direct-to-store distributor. The deal was announced as the co-op grew its membership to 2,000 farmer owners in the first week of 2017.

The Phone Co-op has launched a new brand to ensure its compatibility with digital platforms. The co-op, which is owned by more than 11,700 members, adopted the identity to increase sales and boost online reach, particularly among young people.

The Phone Co-op’s new branding

The Co-op Group is one of only two retailers to be listed in Stonewall’s list of top 100 LGBT-inclusive employers for 2017. The Top 100 Employers list – created by the UK’s leading lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) charity and lobby group – saw the Co-op climb from 72nd in 2016 to 31st this year, while Asda jumped from 83rd in 2016 to 25th.


The Co-op Group has announced the appointment of Steve Murrells as its new chief executive. Mr Murrells, who has been CEO of the Co-op’s food business since 2012, will replace Richard Pennycook, who is stepping down to return to a planned portfolio career he put on hold when he joined the organisation on an interim basis.

The Group’s new CEO Steve Murrells

Figures from market analyst Kantar Worldpanel show discounter Aldi overtaking the Co-op Group to become Britain’s fifth-largest grocer. Even though the German retailer has moved ahead, the Co-op was still outperforming the market with a 2% increase.

The president of the International Cooperative Alliance, Monique Leroux, and nine other business leaders attended the launch of the Canada-United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders in Washington.


Small co-operatives will benefit from legislation designed to reduce regulatory burden, in a decision announced by chancellor Philip Hammond in the spring budget. The government will increase the turnover threshold for which co-operatives are required to conduct a full audit from £5.6m to £10.2m and the assets threshold from £2.8m to £5.1m.

The Co-op Bank has reported an annual loss of £477m. This is lower than the £610.6m loss of 2015, but marks the fifth year in a row it has lost money and brings the total accumulated loss to £2.6bn.

Co-op Energy has announced a new range of targets for community energy development in the UK. The supplier, part of the Midcounties Co-operative, has 40 power purchase agreements in place with community energy generators, up from nine in 2014. It wants to increase that to 60 over the next three years.


The Co-op Group has returned to the red for the first time since the crisis of 2013. In its annual results for the year ending January 2017, it reported an operating profit of £148m (2015: £112m). An underlying profit before tax of £59m (2015: £81m) was down, due to increased investment in the Group’s rebuild process. The Group reported a loss before tax of £132m (2015: £23m profit), which reflected a £74m increase in finance costs due to changes in the value of its bonds, and a writedown in the carrying value of its 20% shareholding in the Co-op Bank to zero.

The New Internationalist ran a successful community share offer

The New Internationalist magazine has reached its crowdfunding target of £500,000. Set up 44 years ago as a worker co-operative, the New Internationalist launched a share offer in March to give readers the opportunity to invest and have a say in its future. To enable this, the publisher changed its legal structure from a worker co-operative registered as a company to a co-operative society.

European co-op banks have outperformed the rest of the banking sector in terms of return on equity, according to research by TIAS School for Business and Society. Since 2011 co-operative banks in Europe have maintained assets stable while those of all other banks shrunk by almost 2%.


In the run-up to the General Election, Co-operatives UK produced a wishlist for the next government on behalf of co-ops:

  1. Help inclusive businesses thrive by ensuring co-operative options are firmly embedded in UK business policy
  2. Do more to help workers gain greater ownership and control of their livelihoods
  3. Make sure communities have the tools to deal with the challenges they face together
  4. Encourage small players in the economy to co-operate more often for mutual advantage

How did the main political parties respond?

Labour will aim to double the size of the co-operative sector in the UK, putting it on a par with those in leading economies like Germany or the US.

The Liberal Democrats will support social investment, ensuring charities and social enterprises can access the support and finance they need to strengthen their governance and deliver innovative, sustainable solutions to challenges in their communities.

The Conservative Party will establish a law to allow employees to mutualise, where appropriate, within the public sector.


Co-operatives have shown resilience over the past year, according to the annual report on the sector.

Co-operatives UK’s 2017 Co-operative Economy report reveals the UK’s co-op economy has a collective turnover of £35.7bn. The sector includes 13.6 million active members and 226,000 employees.

The Phone Co-op is to launch an initiative designed to “help drive the development of a more vibrant co-operative economy”. The Foundation for Co-operative Innovation aims to become a focal point for the wider co-op movement, complementing and supporting Co-operatives UK’s National Co-operative Development Strategy.

Michael Sheen joins the fight for a fairer economy


A radical strategy to grow the UK co-op sector and reshape the country’s economy on more participative lines was announced at Congress. Do It Ourselves aims for a 50% increase in public perception of co-ops as modern and innovative by 2027; a tripling of the rate of co-op start-ups and conversions; and evidence in place of positive social and environmental impact.

Welsh actor Michael Sheen has built up a formidable reputation on stage and screen – but he is also making a name for himself as a social activist, joining the call for a better economy. Mr Sheen believes co-operation is “one of the important tools to be able to move towards a fairer economy”.

Co-operative trade union Naco is in discussions to transfer engagements to the management arm of retail union Usdaw. Naco, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, mostly represents managers at consumer co-operatives, but a period of uncertainty has seen a membership decline over
several years.

The Co-operative Bank has reported a loss of £135m for the first half of 2017 (2016: £177m) in its first report since the Bank agreed a £700m rescue package with its investors in June. This rescue deal was approved in August by shareholders, by 90% of the vote, reducing the Co-op Group’s share in the Bank to 1%.


Farm co-ops in the UK are not doing enough to recruit the right directors and monitor their performance, says a study, from Co-operatives UK and the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society, that looked at how farmer-owned businesses reward their directors. It says director recruitment is critical to a business’s success and a remuneration package is important in attracting the right mix of skills and experience.

Corporate travellers can soon benefit from a dedicated business at Midcounties

Midcounties Co-operative Travel is preparing for the launch of a business serving corporate customers. Co-op Travel Management will offer a single portal where clients can book transport and accommodation.

The city of Glasgow has been recognised by URBACT, the European programme for tackling urban development, for supporting co-ops and credit unions. URBACT has drawn up a list of cities which show good practice in specific areas, and Glasgow was one of 97 to be chosen from more than 300 submissions.


The Co-op Group has fully offloaded its remaining stake in the Co-operative Bank, leaving the financial institution with zero co-op ownership. The Group sold 80% of its shares to hedge funds in 2013. Its remaining 20% was reduced to 1% this year as part of a £700m rescue. package. That final 1% has now been sold off to an existing shareholder for £5m.

A survey from YouGov reveals that nearly 60% of people in the UK see employee-owned (EO) businesses as more trustworthy than those not owned by their employees.

Dairy co-ops OMSCo and Eko Holland formed an alliance


A community development programme has been launched by Co-operatives UK and Power to Change to channel £8m into seven areas across England. The five-year scheme, funded by charitable trust Power to Change, will give community organisations grants, support and tools to create networks of co-ops and community businesses.

Somerset-based Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative (OMSCo) has forged an alliance with dairy co-op Eko Holland to secure a foothold in the European Union. Chairman Nicholas Saphir said the deal will give OMSCo access to a high-quality organic milk supply in Europe.


Three-quarters of Nisa members have approved the Co-op Group’s offer to buy 100% of the business. The purchase will cost the Group £137.5m, which will see 1,186 shareholders receiving a payment of £20,000 per shareholder, alongside a deferred payment of up to £1,654 per share (compared to the current price of £135).

A conference hosted by the Co-operative College looked at the potential for creating the UK’s first co-operative university. The event looked at the structure, governance, pedagogy, research, financing and accreditation of the university. They agreed that membership needed to be meaningfully linked to governance and democracy.

The largest 300 co-operatives and mutuals in the world have a combined turnover of $2.164tn. The World Co-op Monitor collected data for 2,379 organisations across eight sectors of activity, 1,436 of which had a turnover of more than $100m.

A report suggests co-operative ownership for Scotland’s railways


Local groups needing an extra boost to set up or grow a community business can access support and match funding to launch their share offer, thanks to the Community Shares Booster programme. The £3m injection into the programme will support groups in England seeking to launch community shares offers.

The European Association of Co-operative Banks (EACB) has called on the European Commission to facilitate the role of the sector in sustainable finance by setting favourable regulatory frameworks.

A report calling for Scotland’s railways to be publicly owned is backing the co-operative model as one of the ownership options. The report says the co-op option represents a “potential governance structure which could be applied in a successful manner to a future Scottish rail company”.

• More from 2017 at 2017 In Review

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