A year in co-operation: How we reported on 2021

Timeline for an eventual year for the movement


Co-op College announces restructure

The Co-operative College announced the completion of a strategic review that will reduce its running costs by 40% in a drive for financial sustainability. 

The move followed a challenging period for the College, including the 2019 review by the Co-op Group of its support for the co-op movement’s auxiliary bodies, and the Covid-19 crisis. Nine roles (from a total of 17) were made redundant and other colleagues took on altered roles in a streamlined structure.

Pandemic gives shoppers a taste for co-op values

Research from Co-operatives UK revealed that nearly two-thirds of consumers say they trust co-ops, compared to just one third for plcs. Co-operatives UK CEO Rose Marley said: “The pandemic has shone a light on the inequalities across the UK. The truth is people are looking for ways to contribute to a fairer economy and support the creation of decent jobs for their friends and neighbours – especially in these testing times.” 

US co-ops condemn Capitol Hill violence

The US co-op and credit union movements condemned December’s violence in Washington DC when supporters of Donald Trump stormed the Capitol building. Sector apexes all denounced the riots as attacks on the country’s democratic principles.


MP writes to LV= chief executive for answers on demutualisation plan

The chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Mutuals, Labour / Co-op MP Gareth Thomas, wrote to the CEO of mutual insurer LV= – better known as Liverpool Victoria – for answers about plans to sell the business to US private investor Bain Capital, which would lead to its demutualisation.

Snow covers the streets of Austin as the storm hits Texas

US electric co-ops battle to restore power as freeze grips country

Electric co-ops in several US states struggled to meet energy demands after the country was hit by harsh winter weather, leaving some areas without power for more than 10 days. The crisis left some major electric co-ops facing court battles over ruinous wholesale energy bills, with Texas’ biggest and oldest electric co-op, Brazos Electric Power, filing for bankruptcy.

Credit unions join forces to  campaign for 8th co-op principle

A number of US credit unions came together to launch deitalks.com, a website that advocates an 8th co-operative principle focused on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). 


UK co-ops welcome extension of social investment tax relief in spring budget

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced his spring budget with a series of pandemic measures, including an extension of the furlough scheme to September. Of particular note to the co-op movement was the £150m Community Ownership Fund and an extension to social investment tax relief (SITR) until April 2023.

#Coops4dev report looks at young people and co-operatives

The International Cooperative Alliance published a report on how co-ops can help to address the challenges facing young people. Produced in the framework of the ICA-EU Partnership (#Coops4dev), the study covers 20 countries across four regions, based on a survey of more than 420 young people.


Co-op Group reports pre-tax profit of £127m for 2020

The Co-op Group  announced a pre-tax profit of £127m for the year to 2 January, up from £24m the previous year. It was criticised in the press when it said it would not repay all of the government funding it received during the pandemic. It repaid £15.5m in furlough payments but held on to more than £66m in business rates relief, arguing that it incurred extra costs from hiring extra staff, increased colleague absence, a reward payment for colleagues, and the purchase of PPE. 

Younity rebrand for Midcounties community energy joint venture

Midcounties Co-op relaunched its community energy joint venture with Octopus this month under the branding Younity, in the latest move to grow its socially responsible utilities business. The joint venture between the two organisations was already the UK’s largest buyer of community-generated energy, and over the 18 months since its launch it had developed innovative ways of working with community energy groups. 

Japanese co-ops oppose plans to release Fukushima water into the Pacific

Japan’s decision to release more than one million tonnes of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific was met with dismay from fisheries co-ops. Local fishing communities said the water’s release will undo years of hard work to rebuild consumer confidence in their seafood. 


UK local elections topple two CCIN councils but bring two new Labour/Co-op mayors

The local and regional elections brought two new Labour / Co-op metro mayors – Nik Johnson in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and Tracy Brabin in West Yorkshire. But for the Co-­operative Councils’ Innovation Network, two Labour councils fell, with Plymouth left hung and Southampton turning Conservative. Labour/Co-op MP Anneliese
Dodds was demoted from shadow chancellor to Labour Party chair.

Co-op Group holds AGM after unveiling ambitious sustainability plan

The Co-op Group held its online AGM, after unveiling a 10-point action plan to drive its goal of net­-zero emissions by 2040. It aims to be the first supermarket in the world to sell fully carbon-neutral own brand food and drink by 2025.

Relatives of Covid-19 patient queue to fill their oxygen cylinder at Mayapuri in Delhi

Co-op step up efforts to tackle India’s Covid-19 crisis

The global co-op movement  stepped in to support Indian co-operatives. Domestic co-ops, including IFFCO, are re-purposing production to manufacture oxygen and PPE, while the global movement led by the ICA is raising funds to support efforts.


Channel Islands Co-op looks to increase number of unelected directors

Channel Islands Co-op held its annual meeting, where members opted to defer a vote on a number of rule changes – including a proposal to move away from having almost all its directors elected by members, to six out of 11. The deferment came after two members challenged the co-op’s decision to bring most of the proposed changes to the virtual SGM. They wanted any discussion of these changes deferred until a face-to-face meeting can
be held. 

Midcounties to transfer most of its funeral homes to Central England

Central England Co-operative and the Midcounties Co-operative agreed the terms of a deal to consolidate most of the Midcounties’ Funeralcare business into the larger Central England Funeralcare operation. The transaction saw 50 Midcounties funeral homes and two vehicle logistics sites, as well as Midcounties’ Pre-Paid Funeral Plan Business, transfer to Central England, along with 252 colleagues.


Co-op News scoops a place among the Co-op of the Year winners

The UK Co-operative of the Year Awards 2021, run by Co-operatives UK, went to Central England Co-operative (leading co-op), the Co-Pilot Wind Project (inspiring co-op). Loaf Bakery and Cookery School, South Birmingham (small worker co-op), the Globe – Newcastle’s Jazz Co-op venue (small community co-op) and Co-op News (small multi-stakeholder co-op). Co-op Council of the Year went to Telford and Wrekin and there were individual awards to Alam Navsa, Dorothy Francis, Pete Westall, Ed Potter and Elaine Dean, plus posthumous awards for Chris Herries and Nigel Todd.

Co-op College announces new principal and CEO

The Co-operative College announced Neil Calvert as its new CEO and principal, who moves from a leading role at the University of Derby. IntervIew here

Elissa McCarter LaBorde

Woccu appoints its first woman CEO

World Council of Credit Unions· board of directors selected Elissa McCarter LaBorde as the organisation’s new president and CEO. She succeeded Brian Branch, who retired.

India creates national ministry to drive co-op development

Co-operatives will have a designated ministry in India. In a decision announced by the Modi government, the Ministry of Co-operation will be responsible for providing “a separate administrative, legal and policy framework for strengthening the co­-operative movement in the country”. 


Co-op Group chief warns grocery shortages are the worst he’s seen

Co-op Group CEO Steve Murrells warned that supply disruptions from Brexit and Covid-19 are causing the worst food shortages he had seen. He told The Times newspaper that some ranges were being reduced because the industry is struggling to get supplies to shops, thanks to driver and other labour shortages from Brexit migration rules and Covid-19. 

Retail co-ops sign up to soft plastic collection scheme

Independent retail co-ops in the UK signed up to the plastic collection scheme, launched by the Co-op Group at the start of July, setting up in-store receptacles for soft plastics such as crisp packets that are not accepted in recycled refuse collections. Participants include Central England, Midcounties, Chelmsford Star, East of England, Lincolnshire and Heart of England. 

Fairtrade helps Cote D’Ivoire cocoa farmers lift income by 85% 

A household income survey by Fairtrade International found that Fairtrade farmers in Cote d’Ivoire have significantly boosted their income by 85% over the last four years. It concluded that diversification strategies, premiums and trainings could drive further improvements. 


Co-op Group draws flak over new partnership with Amazon

The Co-op Group was criticised by unions and co-operators after the announcement of a partnership with Amazon to accelerate its e-commerce. The move, which comes alongside an expansion of its robot delivery service, is part of a plan to more than double online sales from £70m to £200m by the end of the year. The news comes as the Group reports a half-year loss of 15m, citing supply chain disruption costs.

Netherlands co-op merger could create a supermarket giant

Retail co-ops Plus and Coop agreed to merge into a single co-operative under the brand Plus. If approved, the new co-op would be the third-largest retail chain in the country with a network of 550 stores and a 10% market share. 


UK government’s net-zero strategy offers ‘no practical support’ for community energy

The government released its net-zero strategy for 2050. But Community Energy England – the sector body for community energy businesses – said it contains “no practical support measures to harness the potential of community energy”. It warned: “Failing to support community energy is planning to fail to meet net-zero.” 

Conference season brings a world of co-op discussion

Issues such as community empowerment, the co-op identity, regulation and sustainability were on the global agenda with conferences for the UK Co-op Party, the Centre for Community Finance Europe, Community Energy England, and the UK Confederation of Co-operative Housing. The USA held its Co-op Impact Conference and the month also saw the Global Innovation Co-op Summit.


UK co-op movement laments ‘missed opportunities’ of Rishi Sunak budget

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget met a mixed response from the co-op movement, which welcomed some measures but said opportunities had been missed to empower communities, boost co-op development and tackle climate change.

Welsh parliament considers Marcora Law

The Welsh Senedd voted to back an employee ownership bill that would help workers buy out their employers’ businesses in times of crisis. Huw Irranca-Davies, chair of the Co-operative Senedd Group, introduced a bill which would provide the legal framework, financial support and advice for workers to buy out all or part of a business facing closure or downsizing.

The HQ of CHS, the USA’s biggest co-op

US top 100 co-ops have a joint turnover of $226bn

The USA’s largest co-ops had a joint turnover of $226bn (£170bn) in 2020, according to the annual NCB Co-op 100 Report from the National Cooperative Bank. Topping the league is agri-co-op CHS Inc in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota ($28.4bn).

Co-op sector gives muted response to COP26 deal

There were some successes at COP26 around fossil fuels and deforestation but Cllr Tom Hayes – cabinet member for green transport and zero carbon on Oxford City Council – said: “It just doesn’t go anywhere far enough to meet the scale of the climate emergency.” Community Energy England and REScoop both called for more action to drive citizen-led renewable energy.

Key retail trends at Practitioners Forum

Chris Noice, director of communications at the Association of Convenience Stores, told co-op delegates that custom had grown for the sector, both in store and through home deliveries, but there are challenges to come in terms of driver shortages, discounter competition and sustainability issues.


World Cooperative Congress discusses co-operative identity

Co-op representatives, researchers and policymakers gathered in Seoul, South Korea, to discuss the co-operative identity and how it can drive efforts for a more sustainable and equal world in the face of crises such as the fallout from the 2008 crash, Covid-19 and climate change.

LV= members reject sale to Bain Capital

Members of UK insurance mutual LV= voted down a plan to sell the business to a US private equity investor, which would have led to its demutualisation.