How have the last 12 months been for the sector and what are the lessons going forward?
Working internationally during a pandemic has had its fair share of challenges. It’s frustrating not being able to meet in person when so much of our work is based on human contact. However, like everybody else technology has facilitated our work and we have come to accept the early starts that come with working in different time zones.
The attempted demutualisation of LV= dominated the year for Mutuo. 2020 had concluded with the shocking news that the board of LV= had decided to sell the business to the private equity investor, Bain Capital. This would have been the first major demutualisation of a UK mutual in more than 10 years. It was immediately clear to us that the case made by the LV= leadership required better scrutiny, so that members could come to a clear judgement before the vote.
As part of our work, Mutuo provides pro bono support services to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Mutuals. We proposed to the APPG that it should conduct an inquiry into the demutualisation, and this took place in the first quarter of the year. Evidence was taken in a series of sessions from key players in the mutual sector and from the leadership of LV=. In the report Mutuo produced for the APPG, the serious shortcomings of the proposal were exposed, and formed the bedrock of the campaign against the demutualisation which ran for the rest of the year. A newspaper and general media campaign sought to raise the profile of these findings among LV= members. As Co-op News readers will know, the campaign succeeded and in December we celebrated the members’ rejection of the Bain takeover and LV=’s plans to demutualise the business. This was a landmark victory for members of a large mutual and we believe the first time that a demutualisation proposed by a board has been rejected by members.
This successful campaign should have global significance, in a year that saw the private equity takeover of Mountain Equipment Co-op and the demutualisation of Economical Insurance in Canada. Demutualisation can, and must, be resisted.
One glimpse of near normality was our attendance at the World Cooperative Congress in Seoul, South Korea. Despite the obvious travel difficulties, the ICA was able to successfully host this major global conference, the highlight of which was the warm and supportive address by the president of the Republic of Korea. Mutuo presented on its approach to campaigning strategies that can be adopted to improve the business environment for all types of co-operatives and mutuals.
Despite the challenge of time differences, we have continued to work closely with the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM) in Australia, helping to deliver key projects that are growing their sector. In September, we launched a sustainable mutual business programme which will help Australian co-operatives and mutuals to adopt strategies that highlight the environmental, social and governance impact of their work. As we look forward to the next year this project will form the backbone of our output and will hopefully provide useful insights that can be adopted in many countries. 2022 also sees the Australian federal election, and we will again be supporting BCCM to influence the policy programmes of each of the main parties.
The pandemic has been a major logistical challenge, but it has also brought co-operatives and mutuals closer together. They have been able to demonstrate their resilience, focused as they are on providing services to their members rather than prioritising profits for investors. This different business purpose drives the behaviours that we have seen and will be so much more important as we try to rebuild our economies and societies in the years ahead.