The Scottish government has begun its review of ways to increase the number of social enterprises, employee-owned businesses and co-operatives in Scotland, with sector body Co-operatives UK on the review panel.
Co-operatives UK says its priority is to ensure that Scottish co-ops can take part and influence this review, and hosts a meeting next month to give members a chance to have their say.
“We have Scottish government’s attention and need to ensure we make the most of this rare opportunity,” it says.
Co-operatives UK adds that its work will be guided by the outputs of its Scottish Policy Summit, which brought co-operatives together to identify needs and opportunities ahead of the government review.
Scottish co-operatives identified a number of focus areas:
- Economic priorities and policy frameworks
- Mainstreaming and scaling co-operatives
- Leveraging co-operation between co-operatives
- Invest in co-operative development
The Co-operatives UK summit also covered the potential of co-ops in improving wellbeing and transitioning to a low-carbon economy, by more effectively distributing wealth, offering democratic control and having a social purpose beyond profit.
It raised concern over the lack of public awareness, understanding and appreciation of co-ops in communities, among potential entrepreneurs, businesses and those who advise them, and to tackle “cultural norms and perceptions in the economy [which] discourage the exploration and adoption of co-operative models”, as well as barriers to capital.
“Scottish government must establish objectives and KPIs in economic policy and practice that prioritise and measure the human additionality (e.g. wellbeing, relational value) that co-operatives are great at generating,” said the review. “Scottish government also needs to recognise that it is dealing with multiple converging crises and systemic failures, with huge costs, that can only be addressed through significant economic reform.”
To mainstream the sector, the summit suggested the government “should require more economic democracy ‘by default’, when supporting businesses, and in its partnerships with business”.
“We need to help Scottish government identify and understand the most successful, impactful and high-potential co-operative models round the world,” added the summit note. “We then need to define the mechanism for scaling and /or proliferating these models in Scotland.”
To leverage co-operation between co-ops, it suggests the Scottish government resources peer support between co-ops to help grow the sector and nurture “ecosystem of institutions and networks within the co-operative economy that enable growth”.
And more investment is needed, it says, to encourage start-ups, facilitate growth and increase capacity in co-op development.
“More institutions could and should play a role in co-operative development, including trade unions and community organisations,” it adds. “Local co-operative development has the advantage of taping into social capital and community. Social capital is critical to co-operatives and is strong at the local level.”