Jim Pettipher, deputy executive director of Co-operative Futures, looks at the issues around co-operative development…
As co-operative development becomes an increasingly hot topic, it’s important to look at the challenges facing newly established or growing co-operatives.
It’s also important to put things in context. We need to ask where are we at with co-operative development, and how did we get here?
I am a latecomer to Co-operative Futures – and, indeed, to the movement as a whole. Until I took my current role in co-op development, in November 2006, I had worked for businesses that were not co-ops.
I was starting (and selling) micro-businesses that were not co-ops, advising businesses that were not co-ops and running charities – which were not co-ops either.
I came to the movement at a time of major changes. My first Co-operative Congress, in 2007, coincided with the latest iteration of what we know as “The Co-operative”. The event was dominated by what I came to know as “the one big society” question.
Before then, in 2005, Midcounties Co-operative had been created by the merger of the West Midlands and Oxford, Swindon & Gloucester (OSG) Societies, the latter of which had created Co-operative Futures Limited in 2000. And 2000 was the year that the Co-operative Commission was set up by the Blair government. Made up of business leaders, politicians, trade unionists and co-operators, it was tasked with finding ways to develop and modernise the movement.
Its findings were published in January 2001 as The Co-operative Advantage: Creating a successful family of Co-operative businesses.
So co-operative development was already on people’s minds when I took my role – and so it remains.
I was reminded of the Commission when Alex Bird, a co-op development stalwart from Consultancy.coop, made a proposal at our recent Future Co-ops 2015 “Can Do Co-ops” conference.
He suggests that, as co-operatives, we should all adopt Mondragon’s quoted practice of reinvesting 10% of profit in growing the movement.
This might seem radical. Outlandish. The sort of woolly headed nonsense you might expect from some sort of co-operative fringe… Except, I had heard it somewhere before – in the Co-operative Commission report.
“Reinvestment in the business must always have the first claim on profits, but where a society is trading profitably, the commission recommends that the minimum commitment to the members and the community dividend should be 10% of the profit and that the ratio distribution of individual to community dividend should be around 70% to 30%.” (The Co-operative Advantage, Summary Recommendation 11, page 4, “Reinvesting the profit.”)
But has this happened? And how have things developed since 2000?
Midcounties continues to contract us to do co-operative development, and has started Co-operative Energy and Co-operative Childcare.
The Co-operative Phone & Broadband and the Foster Care Co-operative – which both started around 2000 – are success stories, but are these exceptions to the norm, I wonder? And what might we all be doing now to see co-operative developments in the future?
These are the sorts of questions I hope to consider, because we need to find better co-operative development solutions – because more co-operative futures really would be better for us all.
I am sure that I have heard that before somewhere too…
In this article
- Alex Bird
- Co-operative Commission
- Co-operative Congress
- co-operative development solutions
- Co-operative Futures
- Consumer cooperative
- Dividend Issuance
- foster care co-operative
- Jim Pettipher
- Midcounties Co-operative
- Swindon & Gloucester
- The Co-operative Group
- West Midlands
- United Kingdom
- Top Stories