The scale and impact of the UK’s mutual sector is revealed in the recently published Mutuals Yearbook, launched by campaigning group Mutuo at its annual conference in London.
Despite the recession, mutual businesses and organisations are set to achieve record revenue figures of £116 billion – a £4bn increase on last year’s total. Mutuo calculates that there are 17,897 mutuals in the country – a small drop on the 2011 figure – and over a million people employed in the sector.
Altogether, according to the Yearbook, there are 5,933 co-ops in the UK; 338 Co-operative Trust schools; 9,006 clubs and societies; 184 football and rugby supporters trusts; 250 employee-owned businesses; 55 mutual insurers and friendly societies; 47 mutual building societies; 424 credit unions; 144 NHS Foundation Trusts and 1,516 housing associations.
The combined membership amounts to 63.4 million — equivalent to almost the entire population of the UK. However in a worldwide context, the UK is in ninth place in the mutuality stakes with the USA, China, India, Japan, Indonesia, France, Iran and Canada occupying the top eight places.
As Mutuo point out, there are almost 30,000 co-ops in the US with 305.6m members. China has 160.8m individual co-op members and India nearly 98m.
But the 2012 International Year of Co-operatives and the Olympic Games and Paralympics has given the mutual ideal a timely and important boost, said Mutuo Chief Executive Peter Hunt, who added that the 2012 International Year of Co-operatives had also greatly improved the sector’s self confidence.
Writing in the new Yearbook, Mr Hunt says no one should have been surprised at the way the British people worked together for a common purpose to deliver an outstanding Olympics and Paralympics and claims that a ‘21st century new mutualism’ should trigger the launch of a new wave of co-operatives and mutuals around the country.
Says Mr Hunt: “A new awareness is now emerging of the importance of spreading risk to economies by ensuring the presence of plurality business types. This issue is no longer the preserve of the co-operative zealot, but has attracted the attention of mainstream business as mutuals have continued to grow and strengthen in the teeth of an economic downturn.”
Mr Hunt explained that when Mutuo was established ten years ago, the UK had been through a major wave of demutualisation. This had a big effect on the sector, with many of the largest mutuals converted to listed companies.
He commented: “Mutuals felt demoralised and lacked conﬁdence. Many politicians and policy- makers thought the co-operative and mutual sector was insigniﬁcant and would soon be gone – an interesting 19th century idea that was now out of date.”
Mr Hunt says demutualisation turned out to be disastrous for the UK economy and pointed out that, when the financial crash came, the remaining mutuals were able to weather the storm and their previously derided “boring” outlook is now being celebrated as “apposite and wise”.
“Simultaneously, the Government has shown a renewed interest in mutuals,” added Mr Hunt.
“Cabinet Offce and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills initiatives have promoted mutual spin-outs from the public sector, albeit concentrating on one strand of mutuality – the employee-owned ﬁrm.
“This is to be welcomed – but it would have much greater impact if equal attention was given to promoting the range of co-operative, community and multi-stakeholder mutuals that have been ﬂourishing. Over two million ordinary citizens have joined these new mutuals so far. The public understands mutuals and is ready to participate in their taking a leading role in our society and economy.”