How and where should the Co-operative Bank’s £1million be spent?

Last month, a £1m funding commitment towards co-operative development was announced by the Co-operative Bank, which will see Co-operatives UK delivering a variety of initiatives to develop and...

Last month, a £1m funding commitment towards co-operative development was announced by the Co-operative Bank, which will see Co-operatives UK delivering a variety of initiatives to develop and grow co-ops over a three-year period.

We ask co-operative development specialists from around the UK about about how and where they think the money should be spent – and what they want to see happen by the end of the project.

What areas of co-op development are being neglected? How and where should the Co-operative Bank’s money be spent?

Hilary Sudbury. CDA Co-ordinator, CDA (BRAVE Ltd): 

There is no national co-operative development scheme in place currently so this scheme will hopefully provide specialist advice and guidance to new-start and existing co-operatives. Various initiatives, such as community shares initiatives, have access to Big Potential funding (although subject to a stringent application process) so I would like to see the priority for this scheme as the smaller scale local co-ops which impact their local economy and communities.

The co-operative relationships between members, especially worker co-op members. This is just as, if not more, important than the business basics like plans and budgets. The skills to advise on this are also rarer. This would be a critical area for investment. In terms of how it should be spent, there should be some transparent governance around it, with feedback from co-ops as well as development bodies.

Dave Boyle. Director, The Community Shares Company: 

There’s been support for new start-ups, but anyone who has worked with groups knows that there’s a pre-start-up journey that involves meeting, talking and helping groups, way before they’ve raised a brass farthing or decided a legal structure.

There’s a risk here, as not every group will go forward, so I think there’s a role for de-risking with things like crowdfunding to make sure that money is focused on the likelier winner. However, web guides and tools can only go so far – a co-op gets formed by discussion and those helping such groups need to be engaged over time, and paid for that time.

Nathan Brown. Co-operative and Social Enterprise business advisor, Cooperantics:

Many areas of co-operative development are currently under resourced, but particularly pre-start and start-up support. Co-operative development bodies use reserves or, as in our case, time donated by worker members, to provide support and grow the movement – effectively cross-subsidising support from those pieces of paid work we get.

If work with pre-starts that leads to start-ups generated some fees from the programme we could better sustain that activity and grow the sector.

The Dog Inn, Belthorn, was bought by the community with the help of Co-operative and Mutual Solutions

Dorothy Francis. CEO, Co-operative and Social Enterprise Development Agency (CaSE-da):

Part of the £1m could be used to strengthen and improve the support offered to co-operatives, especially those in the process of taking out a loan, by financing them to access their local Co-operative Development Agency for business mentoring. CDAs increasingly have to charge for services to survive and funds such as formerly offered by the Co-operative Enterprise Hub help aspiring co-operators to access vital support and mentoring. When loans are partnered with mentoring and support intended specifically for co-operatives this gives a greater chance of survival and lays the foundation for business longevity.  Advice, support and training to all aspiring co-operatives, regardless of whether they are seeking loan finance, is the key.

Dave Hollings. Consultant/Director, Co-operative and Mutual Solutions: 

Helping existing co-operatives to grow. The fund should focus on new start or existing co-operatives with a committed team of co-operators with a strong business idea.

I am pleased to say that in Scotland there is substantial backing of co-operative development, with CDS playing a key role. I anticipate a significant increase in interest in co-operative working – so it would be ideal if the Co-operative Bank’s support could be aligned to that of CDS, ideally helping both the start-up and growth of community co-operatives.

What three things would you like to see come out of this initiative after three years?

Hilary Sudbury: 

I would like this scheme to become a coherent national co-operative development scheme which has clear priorities in terms of its reach and impact and which is supported by the whole co-operative movement.

I would like it to strengthen the existing co-operative development expertise within co-operative development bodies by using their expertise to deliver the scheme.

Money hopes there will be a focus on the co-operative relationships between members. Photograph: Unicorn Workers Co-operative

Thirdly I would like the priorities, reach and impact of this scheme to be in line with the prospective national co-operative development strategy and not just the priorities of Co-operatives UK or the Co-operative Bank.

Nick Money:

I would like to see some bigger and stronger co-operatives, rather than just more, and tools developed to enable best practice in collaborative and co-operative working.

Dave Boyle: 

‘What we think is needed’ is often a proxy for ‘what would be good for us’ as development specialists, so with that bias upfront, as specialists in community co-ops, we’d like to see support for early stage community co-ops. That’s the sector that offers the biggest bang for the buck and given that the fund doesn’t have enormous resources, there’s a real need to focus on what will drive the development of co-ops which will help grow the sector’s visibility and connect to the most people.

There are significant challenges to growing the worker co-op sector, obviously, but growing the front rank worker co-ops into successful household names to grow the co-operative economy seems to be a challenge beyond what a £1m fund can realistically be tasked with delivering.

Nathan Brown:

I would like to see:

1. A clear demonstration of the Return On Investment achieved through co-op development to encourage future investment in support.

2. Interactive and self-sustaining tools for pre-starts that enable communities and individuals to reach a stage where they are clear about what they want to achieve so any extra resources or support backs groups likely to succeed.

3. A more connected co-op sector that collaborates to develop new and existing co-ops by providing peer support and contributing to meet the cost of on-the-ground support to grow the movement.

Dorothy Francis: 

1. A dedicated support and mentoring package offered to co-operatives, especially in regards to those accessing loans. Essentially, a dedicated support service for everyone who wishes to explore the co-operative option.

2. Recognised and ongoing financial support for co-operative development agencies.

3. Development and retention of strong co-operatives contributing to the local economy.

Dave Hollings: 

An increase in the number of sustainable co-operative businesses. But the fund should avoid measuring success by the number of new starts – too often in the past this crude approach has led to large numbers of marginal, under-capitalised co-operatives with short lifespans.

The programme should be concerned with co-operatives that have the capacity to make a significant, long-term difference to the lives of their members and the communities they live in.

Sarah Deas: 

I would like to see greater emphasis placed on building a strong suite of online resources, which will help businesses understand their options. From there, they can progress to face-to-face support which should deliver added value. In addition, there should be greater promotion of collaboration between co-operatives and an equal emphasis placed on the launch of new co-operatives and the growth of existing ones.

  • You can read what Claire Ebrey from Co-operatives UK tells us the funding will focus on by clicking here.
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