Growth and innovation: From village stores to the Fair Tax Marque

2014 can be remembered as a year of growth and innovation across the co-operative movement. It saw the growth of community co-operatives from energy, village stores, pubs and...

2014 can be remembered as a year of growth and innovation across the co-operative movement. It saw the growth of community co-operatives from energy, village stores, pubs and credit unions through to innovations such as the increased level for withdrawable share capital, the Fair Tax Mark and the Worker Co-operative Solidarity Fund.

JANUARY: Withdrawable share capital increase 
At the start of the year, the government approved proposals to increase withdrawable share capital (WSC) to £100,000 to encourage growth. By the summer, individuals were be able to invest up to £100,000 in a co-operative (an increase from £20,000) in a revision put forward by the Treasury.

JANUARY: Welsh government announces £1.2m investment in credit unions  
The Welsh government declared it would invest a further £1.2m in the Welsh credit union sector before March. The funding was to support 19 projects, seven of which are national.

FEBRUARY: Fair Tax Mark 
The campaign for a more responsible approach to tax took a decisive step forward on 20 February when Midcounties Co-operative, Unity Trust Bank and the Phone Co-op became the first businesses to be accredited by the new Fair Tax Mark, the world’s first independent accreditation scheme to address the issue of responsible tax.

JUNE: Co-op economy holds steady in face of ‘awful year’ 
The collective turnover of the co-operative economy increased to £37bn, despite the troubles affecting the Co-operative Group.

In its annual report, The Co-operative Economy 2014, Co-operatives UK found that the co-op economy has grown 13.5% over the past five years, while the GDP of the UK as a whole only increased by 6.6%. In 2013, the number of co-ops rose 2.5% from 6,169 to 6,323, but total member numbers fell by 300,000 to 15.1m.

JULY: Community shops sector continues to grow
2014 was another good year for the UK’s community shop sector, according to research by rural charity the Plunkett Foundation. Its report, Community-Owned Village Shops 2014, showed the trading performance of established shops is continuing to grow. Like-for-like sales growth was 1.9% in 2013, outstripping that of major supermarkets.



Peter Couchman
Peter Couchman

Peter Couchman said: “The highlight of the year has been the continued growth of community-owned co-operatives. Village shops are still increasing in numbers and co-op pubs have now grown tenfold in five years. Every single one is an inspiring story of a community tackling its problems through a co-operative.”



Karin Christiansen
Karin Christiansen

Karin Christiansen said: “What’s been really impressive in 2014 is how much the co-op movement is continuing to innovate and provide tools for people to respond to the cost-of-living crisis.

“For example, we’re seeing students form housing co-ops to tackle rip-off rents and data co-ops taking shapein response to people’s concerns about internet privacy and security … Our larger co-ops are taking the lead too – for example Midcounties’ championing the Fair Tax Mark. My hope is to see the Co-operative Party increasingly reflecting that diversity, for example by welcoming Enabled Works (set up by former Remploy workers) as a new member of the Party.”

Kate Whittle
Kate Whittle

Kate Whittle of Cooperantics says a highlight of the year was the establishment of a worker co-operative solidarity fund. “The aim is to create and manage a permanent common fund, paid for by the voluntary subscriptions of worker co-op members, workers’ co-ops, individuals and organisations that support […] collective ownership.”



James Graham
James Graham

James Graham described innovations in the agriculture sector. “We assisted our members Scotlean Pigs and Scottish Pig Producers to create a joint venture with co-op giant Danish Crown that will result in significant investment in pig processing in Scotland in 2015,” he said.

“The two co-ops market almost all the pigs produced in Scotland … It’s a fantastic co-operative outcome.”


Derek Walker
Derek Walker

Derek Walker said: “There is a developing trend for the application of co-operative solutions to issues in many different sectors. For instance, there has been a growth in community ownership of facilities such as pubs, shops and leisure centres using community share approaches. There has been increased interest in community-based energy solutions, be they group buying or community-owned renewables.

“In the Wales Co-operative Centre, we have been leading on the development of co-operative housing approaches across the country working with the Confederation of Co-operative Housing. In addition, the Centre is supporting a number of pilot projects in the social care field which will lead into the development of new business models for social care delivery.

“With Disability Wales, we have been involved with the development of the Citizen Directed Co-operative project which will empower disabled people to manage their direct payments as part of a co-op structure.

“Co-operative solutions can be extremely flexible and we are proud to be involved with some of this innovative work.”

Sarah Deas
Sarah Deas

Sarah Deas said: “I think rather than innovation, what has caught my attention has been the different types of business now adopting a co-operative approach.

“It is now recognised as a means of achieving competitive advantage by businesses in a wide range of sectors. There is also growing interest in employee ownership as a succession solution.”

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