The paper is based on a survey carried out by Cooperatives Europe, which involved 55 co-operative enterprises from more than 10 national apex organisation members representing close to 90% of the co-operative movement in Europe.
All co-ops taking part said they had been impacted by the pandemic in their business activities, turnover and workforce, be that due to employees having to work from home, projects being suspended or loss of customers.
Another finding was that co-ops were affected differently depending on the sector they operated in. For example, co-operative start-ups and the transport, education and culture, including tourism, sectors were particularly impacted by the strict lockdown rules in place while the health and retail sectors experienced an increase in demand for services.
Some co-ops were prompted by the pandemic to explore new business avenues. In Spain a textile co-op readapted production to produce masks and gloves while in Bulgaria a large co-operative active in the food sector put in place mobile stores to deliver fresh and affordable food in villages without grocery shops, and in grocery stores with food supply issues.
Most of the co-op surveyed had put in place temporary unemployment schemes, while a third ensured short-time work for their staff.
Another key challenge was the need to go digital – with most saying they needed help with the transition.
Meanwhile, in certain countries – including Greece, Turkey and Sweden – some co-operatives and social co-ops were excluded from receiving grants.
The survey found that co-ops wanted different support measures, depending on their size. Micro (56.52%) and small (43.75%) co-operatives want deferring payments of utilities, social security contributions, loans or taxes; medium co-operatives think they would most benefit from is advice with business continuity planning (37.75%); and large co-operatives would welcome supplies of personal protection equipment like masks and gloves (44%).
Co-ops of all sizes identified access new grants and tax reliefs as the biggest financial priority.
While most of the co-ops said they had turned to public authorities and financial institutions for information on the available funding opportunities in times of crisis, medium sized co-ops said their first point of contact had been their national apex bodies – for information, explanations and guidance to obtain funding support from their public authorities.
In light of these findings, Cooperatives Europe made several recommendations. The apex says policy-makers should actively include co-operative organisations in designing policies for restoring the economy. National public authorities should collaborate with national apex co-operative bodies to ensure that unemployment support schemes are fit and available for co-operatives at the same conditions as other companies, it adds. It also wants government to facilitate access to information, allowing interested enterprises – including co-operatives – to better understand available support schemes and eligibility criteria. It says co-operatives should be specifically targeted as suppliers for public procurements and calls for additional support from governments to enable digitisation.
Cooperatives Europe recommends that public authorities better facilitate the access to information on the available funding and business support measures; not make it harder the conditions for granting such support measures; adapt their measures and provide information on the general business development support programmes available as well as guides on how to address Covid-19 as employers that are tailored to co-ops; and help to educate consumers about supporting local and inclusive businesses like co-operatives.
According to Cooperatives Europe, the survey also showed the importance of democratic member control and co-operation amongst co-operatives, which, it says, helped co-ops better cope with the crisis. The results of the survey are available on Cooperatives Europe’s website.