The number of full-time co-operative development advisors has fallen by 15% and three co-op development bodies (CDBs) have ceased trading in the past year, says the Co-operative Development Body Forum.
The forum surveyed its 34 CDB members in January 2015 and received responses from 21. It found that the number of full-time-equivalent advisors had fallen by seven to 40.5 across England, Wales and Scotland since 2014.
Seven of the 21 organisations were wholly reliant on co-operative development advice work, but 11 said their direct income from this was lower than the previous year and 15 said they had survived by doing broader work including social enterprise support – and by working for lower rates or even for free.
Only eight of the 21 had income – not always enough to cover costs – to promote co-operative models. Three CDBs were receiving EU funding and two were receiving UK government funding.
New-start co-op numbers were reported as down across the board. Job creation via new-start co-ops appeared negligible, with nearly all fledgling co-ops reported as reliant on volunteers in their early years.
Forum chair Hilary Sudbury, who is also co-ordinator of CDA in Bristol, said: “There’s an issue with some of the funding streams which are due to come on line, including Power to Change and Access, and with Big Potential to some degree.
“I think the community benefit society form – which can conform to co-operative principles although not all do – will stand more of a chance of accessing funding for support than the co-operative society model.
“In particular, it’s more and more difficult to find funding for worker co-ops, consortium co-ops, housing and multi-stakeholder co-ops against the community benefit society and wider community-led and owned models.”
Sara Wiltshire, director of communication at Power to Change, said her organisation could support co-operative societies, worker co-ops and community benefit societies.
“The critical factor for us isn’t legal structure, but more about the context of the specific community business wanting support from us,” she said. “Is it place-based, operating for the social, economic or environmental benefit of the community in that place?”
She added: “Community control can be through membership and board members, and on a level of genuine and open community consultation, or a level of local engagement.
“This doesn’t mean there cannot be any members or board members from outside of that place.
“Nor does it mean that, if the ownership of the business is a defined group like its workers, it would be ineligible for support.
“But any organisation would have to demonstrate that the balance of control sat with a group that could adequately represent the community as a whole, and did not operate only for the benefit of a defined group.”
She said any legal form could be eligible for funding from Power to Change – provided they can show they meet its definition of a community business.
The CDB Forum, hosted by Co-operatives UK, meets three times a year to share best practice and co-ordinate co-op development activity across the UK. It comprises 34 organisations with a total of 96 advisers giving help to pre-start, new start and existing co-ops.