Jo Swinson: Time has never been more important for employee ownership

Employee ownership allows employees to have both a voice in how the business is run through employee engagement and a stake in its success. It is a way...

Employee ownership allows employees to have both a voice in how the business is run through employee engagement and a stake in its success. It is a way of running a business that creates both a stronger economy and a fairer society.

Employee ownership can be found in a diverse range of sectors across the UK from manufacturing to retail, engineering to healthcare and consultancy to publishing. We are all familiar with successful companies such as John Lewis Partnership, Unipart Group, Mott MacDonald, Arup, and PA Consulting. But did we know that they all have employee ownership?

Many co-operatives have adopted employee ownership, placing a controlling stake of the business in the hands of employees. Two such examples are Dulas and the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative.

In 2012 my predecessor, Norman Lamb MP, asked Graeme Nuttall, one of the foremost experts on employee ownership, to undertake an independent review into employee ownership. His report, published on 4 July 2012, concluded that benefits of employee ownership were clear. 

Employee ownership:

  • provides a catalyst for greater employee commitment,
  • reduces absenteeism, staff turnover and accidents in the workplace,
  • leads to higher business productivity and profitability; and
  • can give a business greater resilience through times of economic difficulty.

However, the Nuttall Report also highlighted that more needed to be done to raise awareness of employee ownership and to create a better climate in which employee ownership could grow and flourish.

Working with a wide range of partners, I have taken on the exciting challenge of implementing the Nuttall recommendations. On the 4th July, during Co-operatives Fortnight and working with the Employee Ownership Association, we are organising the first-ever national Employee Ownership Day

The Day, supported by Co-operatives UK, Co-operative Development Scotland, the Wales Co-operative Centre, the TUC and the Federation for Small Businesses, will be an excellent opportunity for those interested to share real-life experiences of employee ownership. I am delighted to hear reports that many businesses with employee ownership are opening their doors on the Day to show local communities how they make this business model work for them.

We are also organising a London conference where attendees will hear about the progress being made to simplify employee ownership, for example through the publication of new guidance and model documentation. The conference will also showcase the pioneering approach to public service delivery that the Cabinet Office is leading on through public service mutuals.

One year on from the publication of the Nuttall Review, much has been achieved. I have personally enjoyed hearing first-hand the benefits that employee ownership can bring and the broad-based support it has amongst many diverse stakeholder groups. My hope is that Employee Ownership Day will boost and expand this support.

I encourage anyone who has seen the benefits of employee ownership and other approaches that support the incentives of ordinary workers and the business to speak up. There has never been a more important time to create a more diverse economy. And those who are already “in the know” now have an opportunity to spread the word and to support others to make the journey that they have made. My ambition is to work with others to deliver a decade of employee ownership.

• If you would like more information then please contact: [email protected].

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