‘Co-operation’ was once a word held close to the hearts of co-operatives to show how the sector’s business practices are different.
But now, many different forms of businesses are using the word. Those that are not quite co-ops are understanding the act of co-operation between like-minded organisations, whether it is a community interest company or community benefit society.
A healthcare partnership launched last month in Lincolnshire shows that businesses for the public benefit can take co-operation one step further. Even though the NHS does inter-cooperate with other services, this group of services (a ‘bencom’, CIC and foundation trust) are working together at a radical level.
As co-operatives do, these organisations are working together for their stakeholders and have recognised they are serving a common purpose – thus there is no conflict and a perfect reason for all to co-exist.
But, it doesn’t always work, as a totally separate healthcare scheme in the US has shown. The so-called consumer operated and oriented plans – or CO-OPs – were hailed as a solution to overpriced healthcare.
The movement, which almost sprung up overnight, has seen 12 of the 23 schemes closed down due to governance issues and regulatory obstacles. So it’s important that regulation is on our side and allows new forms of radical co-operation, whatever the business model.
Co-operation between businesses is also strong in Scotland, where Co-operative Development Scotland is pushing consortia. It has recently launched its annual £10,000 collaboration prize, and there are many examples of success.
A consortium co-operative is an umbrella organisation that unites many different types of businesses – and none of the individual businesses needs to be a co-op. Its aim is to help businesses grow and provide access to new markets or to pool knowledge/resources.
So it’s not just a buying group – they can also be involved in selling or marketing too. Some great examples include Screen Facilities Scotland which brings together film and television companies to be a much stronger voice when pitching for contracts, and the Breadalbane Tourism Co-operative where 10 businesses came together to improve transport and to highlight local food and drink establishments.
Both people and organisations coming together and taking action to further solidify their values is what co-operatives are all about. It’s simple: working together is good for business.