Co-operatives UK and Revolver Co-operative held their annual meetings over Co-operative Congress weekend. Both organisations highlighted the changes they were making in response to a challenging year for the sector, and reported a positive outlook for the future.
Co-operatives UK AGM: a challenging year for the organisation
Introducing Co-operatives UK’s annual report, secretary general Ed Mayo said 2014 had been a testing year for the organisation. The umbrella body for co-operatives reported a deficit of £2,892 compared to the previous year’s surplus of £4,575. Income fell for the second consecutive year, by 18% in 2014.
In response, expenditure was reduced by £498,000 with 40% cuts in administration. Staff also volunteered to reduce work hours while pay rises and bonuses were frozen to balance budgets. “We will succeed by working together and co-operating,” said Phil Holmes, head of finance and shared services.
In 2014 the Co-operatives and Community Benefit Societies Act was introduced, making it easier to start and run a co-operative. A key focus for the organisation has been to change the business environment and help co-operatives grow. Throughout 2014 Co-operatives UK has provided specialist advice to almost 300 co-operatives. It has also lobbied for a five-fold increase in investment limits and they expect that this, consolidated into the new Act, could save larger societies £2.5m a year.
Launched in partnership with Locality, Co-operatives UK’s online platform, Microgenius, helped break through the £1m barrier in terms of money raised for community share issues.
Overall, Co-operatives UK organised 41 training events and conferences and reached out to 48 million members. Another achievement has been allowing staff of co-operative enterprises to be covered by the Pension Protection Fund. Previously, co-operative societies were not covered by this provision in case of insolvency.
AGM delegates also voted to appoint KPMG as auditors for the year 2015/2016 and to amend the roles of the society. The amendments to the rule changes aimed to update these for the new Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act and can be read online.
Revolver Co-operative increases sales despite tough trading environment
It has been a tough year for Revolver Co-operative, said board member and chief officer, Paul Birch. However, the co-op has managed to increase sales by a third and will be launching new syrup and drinking chocolate products.
Its turnover decreased from £46,066 in 2013 to £34,237 in 2014. “In the previous year, nearly half of turnover was merchandise bought on behalf of the Co-operative Group, providing t-shirts for volunteers at Co-ops United. Half of that was paid in 2012 and the other half in 2013,” explained Mr Birch. The co-operative’s profit also decreased from £7,847 in 2013 to £531 in 2014.
By February this year Revolver had sold as much coffee as in the previous year. The co-op has faced plenty of challenges, said Paul Birch, one of the biggest being deflation across the food sector. This meant that competitors were able to drop their prices and Revolver had to reduce margins. Their supplier, Masteroast increased supply costs by 9% while their distributors, Blakemore increased the co-op’s contribution from 10% to 16%.
Revolver products can now be bought from Polish chain Kuchnie Swiata. “We are looking for news that Alma, Auchan and Piotr and Pawel will take our stock into their stores in time for this coming September,” said Paul Birch. He asked members to share their view as to where the co-operative should be heading.
“Should we be a co-operative version of Cafedirect or Divine Chocolate? Or should our business model be more like Traidcraft or Equal Exchange where we have multiple commodities?”
Revolver aims to assert itself as a different type of enterprise. It has signed up to the Living Wage Foundation, runs an internship programme and is in the process of signing up for the Fair Tax Mark.
“We are not a charity, but we act charitably; we are not a not-for-profit, but we don’t make a profit… yet; and we are not an NGO, but we do campaign on social, human and civil rights,”
Last year Revolver was awarded Birmingham Business Charter Mark for Social Responsibility and accredited the Best Buy mark by Ethical Consumer magazine. It also came second out of 24 coffee brands in Ethical Consumer’s shopping guide to ground coffee.