Annual Q&A: Rose Marley, chief executive of Co-operatives UK

‘Our values and principles are not simply a badge to be worn. They must be at the core of every co-operative’

How was last year for Co-operatives in the UK? 

There’s so much in the world to be concerned about. We’re continuing to live with Covid; the war in Ukraine; the climate emergency; spiralling energy costs and the cost-of-living crisis… but as we look towards 2023 there is hope; there is progress; and there are solutions through working together, co-operatively.

We started 2022 offering hope to younger people. Our survey of 16 to 25-year-olds revealed serious concerns over important issues including mental health, job security, career prospects, a lack of control over their working live and climate change. But we shone a light on the co-operative solutions available to them – and followed up with our first National Youth Summit later in the year. It might be a bit of cliché, but young people do give me hope – as does every co-operative I visit. And we’re working hard to help those co-operatives do more. 

Around 350 Co-operatives UK members accessed our advice services in 2022, and we helped bring more than 100 new co-operatives into existence as we look to grow the movement. More than £200m was invested in UK community businesses in the last decade through community shares – a major landmark demonstrating that local people want ownership and control of the things that matter to them. And through our externally funded projects, including the Ownership Hub and our business support programme funded by The Co-operative Bank, The Hive, we pumped some £1.4m into the co-operative economy. We’re delivering results in the short term but also heavily invested in the future.

What are your hopes for the future?

We know co-operatives are transformational, but sometimes transforming the business and policy environment in which they operate takes time. Earlier this year the government decided to take forward an element of Sir Mark Kendrick’s Co-operatives, Mutuals and Friendly Societies Bill and adopt it as government legislation, which will directly benefit all co-operatives – but particularly worker co-ops, housing co-ops and consumer co-ops. What’s also important here is that we’ve lobbied for reform in this area for years and years. We did not give up hope. We persisted and we’re getting results. Some things take time.

Earlier this month we were also delighted to announce an expansion of the Ownership Hub as it moved into London. I love this commitment from the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who said: “Increasing the number of employee and worker owned businesses is a key part of my mission to build a better London for everyone – a safer, fairer, greener and more prosperous city for all.”

It’s not easy. We are a small sector, but we pack an almighty punch. Our values and principles are not simply a badge to be worn. They must be at the core of every co-operative.  

During the Covid pandemic we found that collective action began to find its voice again and deliver change. So we end the year with hope. Whether it’s people coming together to build wind farms or save venues the ‘spirit of co-operation’ is very much alive. That’s why it is our theme for 2023.