I am delighted to be developing this programme of business support with colleagues at Co-operatives UK and at the Co-operative Bank.
It presents a significant opportunity for the sector to create and test an efficient, responsive and agile approach to supporting new and existing co-ops, building upon learnings from previous programmes and initiatives, while looking to the future.
When resources are limited we need to focus our energies on those co-ops most likely to benefit from them and either start up or grow. Until now there has been a strong focus on new start co-ops – often at an early stage in their process. Existing co-ops and employee buy-outs have somewhat played second fiddle, despite the consistent and strong argument that they offer the greatest opportunity for growth of the economy and reputation of the movement.
This balance should be redressed with a focus on: existing co-ops with the capacity and inclination to grow; on communities looking to address a need or save an asset through community shares; bringing existing businesses into the movement via employee buy-outs; as well as new start co-operatives that are ready to receive support and start trading.
The programme must make a difference, both to individual organisations and the movement as a whole. Resources will be finite, as we’re not pulling from a bottomless pit, so we must use what we have strategically, to deliver the most impact.
It will be based around five core areas:
- Creating a one-stop-shop for co-operative advice and support. This will contain guidance materials including, but not exclusive to videos, diagnostic tools, downloadable guides, factsheets, template documents and links.
- Launching an active online community of co-operators with the purpose of sharing knowledge and business leads and incorporating expert inputs at key times to engage and inspire (a very modern take on Principle 6).
- Providing tailored one-to-one and cluster advice. This support will help new starts register and support communities to prepare and launch a community share offer. It will enable employees and business owners to plan co-operative succession, and give existing co-ops the tools to plan for sustainable growth.
- Offering co-operative skills training sessions to help existing co-ops with governance and co-operative working, strategic planning, marketing, and sustainability.
- Facilitating co-operative learning through peer mentoring.
The Co-operative Bank enshrined co-operative values in its articles of association, and its customers prioritised support for local communities and co-operatives above all other good causes in its recent Ethical Policy poll. This programme demonstrates the Bank’s commitment to delivering on this commitment, by providing vital support to co-operatives and communities nationwide.
Crucially, the programme will be fleet-of-foot. That agility means that the programme can adapt to a changing business landscape, or address a latent or previously uncatered for need.
So the provision of support in year one may be adapted in response to management information, client feedback or innovations in the movement in future years. We will be able to replace the under-utilised elements of the programme with new elements that will deliver our objectives. It’s a real feather in the Co-operative Bank’s cap that it is not requiring a rigid, inflexible system of support.
Over the next three years, I see the initiative creating more, better equipped, sustainable co-operative enterprises.
It will establish a robust structure for UK co-ops to find the support they need, cementing methods for all those involved in providing support to co-operatives to work together to boost the movement. By providing a platform to deliver and test ideas for a co-operative development strategy it will support the co-ops of the future.
- We asked co-operative development specialists from around the UK how and where the Co-operative Bank’s £1million development fund should be spent. Click here to find out what they said.