Co-operatives celebrate work from across the West Midlands

Co-operators from across the West Midlands celebrated the work of its 700 co-operatives, despite negative publicity surrounding the business model over recent months. Nick Matthews, chair of Co-operatives...

Co-operators from across the West Midlands celebrated the work of its 700 co-operatives, despite negative publicity surrounding the business model over recent months.

Nick Matthews, chair of Co-operatives West Midlands, who opened the organisation’s annual networking lunch in Birmingham last week, said: “Despite what you hear, the co-operative movement is alive and well, and doing exciting things in areas you would not imagine.”

At the meeting, 88 co-operatives, working in sectors such as housing, finance and football, heard about the good work that is being done across the region.

Co-operative Energy general manager Ramsay Dunning told the meeting how the Warwick-based Midcounties Co-operative had entered the energy market in 2011 on a ticket of fair pricing, fair treatment of customers, paying taxes in the UK, and a commitment to green energy production.

The business attracted 10,000 customers in its first 100 days. Today it has 200,000 domestic customers, and recorded a turnover of £250 million in its third year.

The supplier has also created 270 jobs at Walsall and in Warwick. “These are new jobs we have created in our West Midlands heartland, not jobs we have shifted from other utility companies,” said Mr Dunning.

The meeting also heard from another co-operative success story from the utilities sector. Based in Chipping Norton in West Oxfordshire, the Phone Co-op is a provider of home and business telephone, mobile services, and broadband.

Established in 1998, the co-operative – which is owned by its 28,000 customers – was established on a basis of strong customer service and the fair treatment of employees, with “the most egalitarian profit share scheme you’ll find, with everyone from the chief executive to the office cleaner awarded the same pro-rata payout,” according to founder and CEO Vivian Woodell.

At a time when volumes and prices in the telecommunications market are falling, he said, the Phone Co-op has just enjoyed its most profitable year ever – and paid its members a dividend of 2.5 percent of the profits.

• Co-operatives West Midlands seeks to support, develop and promote co-operative enterprise in the region. For more information about starting a co-operative in the West Midlands, visit: www.cooperatives-wm.coop

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