Co-operatives Bill to bring UK legislation up to date

British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced plans for a Co-operatives Bill.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced plans for a Co-operatives Bill.

The Bill will be made up out of 17 separate pieces of legislation that govern co-operatives across the UK, dating back to 1965, and, according to Downing Street, will be put to parliament before the next election.

In front of a co-op-audience in the Hub Westminster, London, that included Co-operatives UK Secretary General Ed Mayo and Ursula Lidbetter, Chief Executive, Lincolnshire Co-operative, the Prime Minister said the "outdated" legislation will be referred to the Law Commission.

Mr Cameron said: “We know that breaking monopolies, encouraging choice, opening up new forms of enterprise is not just right for business but the best way of improving public services too.

 “There are over 12 million co-op members in the UK. That’s more people than there are shareholders in the economy. But right now there are too many barriers in the way . . .  so today I can announce they will all be brought together and simplified in a new Co-operatives Bill that will be put before parliament.” 

After the event, Mr Mayo said: "The new act is intended to make it as easy and natural to form a co-operative as any other form of business. We are delighted to see the Coalition taking action to put co-operative businesses on an equal footing and create a diverse economy.

"Co-operatives, as well as being widely recognised for their ethical business practices, are a vital part of the British economy, employing more than 235,000 people, turning over more than £33 billion each year and generating a significant amount of wealth for the country."

Mr Cameron added that a new form of "popular capitalism" is ready to take-over and that he had "long cared" about the Co-operative Movement, which is the reason he helped establish the Conservative Co-operative Movement that has 40 Conservative MPs as members.

He said: "We know that breaking monopolies, encouraging choice, opening up new forms of enterprise is not just right for business, but the best way of improving public services too. There are over 12 million co-op members in the UK. That's more people than there are shareholders in the economy and a vital branch of popular capitalism."

The Co-operative Party, which represents the Movement's views in Westminster with more than half of the Parliamentary Labour Party as its members, has welcomed the government’s announcement of a Co-operatives Act, but says it needs to include new initiatives to boost the co-operative sector.

Party Chairman Gareth Thomas MP said: “Over the last decade the Co-operative Party secured the most comprehensive package of legislation ever for co-operatives and mutuals. Putting that into one Act is a step in the right direction but the government should be more ambitious and include new measures to help co-operatives.

“2012 is the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives. The government should not miss that opportunity by limiting the Act to a consolidation of existing legislation. They should seize the moment and include new measures such as the Co-operative Party’s plan to enshrine co-operative housing in legislation.

“That plan, which is in a Bill put forward by Labour and Co-operative MP Johnny Reynolds, would establish for the first time co-operative housing tenure in law and update the current feudal arrangements .

“The government should also do more to support co-ops and mutuals in challenging big businesses like Southern Cross, the banks and energy companies which are unaccountable to ordinary people.

“Co-operation and mutuality is an idea whose time has come back. In the year when the whole world celebrates the co-operative model we should look at every possible way to put co-operatives on a level playing field with other forms of business.

Jesse Norman, a founder of the Conservative Co-operative Movement, told the News: "We have been working towards a new piece of legislation on co-operatives for some time now, so the Prime Minister's announcement is massively welcome.  

"At present co-ops are governed by over a dozen pieces of separate law, so a consolidation and updating is badly needed. But this is also a huge opportunity for the Government to level the playing field for co-ops and mutuals, and to give greater encouragement to the creation of new co-ops.

"I am especially pleased that it is a Conservative Prime Minister who is leading the way, and in 2012, the International Year of Co-operatives."

• Also read: The case for consolidating co-operative legislation

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