Central England’s Travel branches transfer to Midcounties

The agreement will see 16 branches open under Midcounties’ Co-operative Travel brand

The UK’s two largest independent consumer co-operatives have entered into an agreement that will see 16 Central England travel branches, and the colleagues who work in them, join Midcounties Co-operative Travel and re-open by mid-August, subject to consultation.

A spokesperson for Central England Co-operative said: “Central England and Midcounties have a longstanding and positive relationship, with Central England recently joining Midcounties’ travel buying consortium following the demise of Thomas Cook.

“The coming together of the two businesses will enable the continuation of a Co-operative travel offer for our members and customers and the continued employment for a number of colleagues.”

This is the third major deal made by Midcounties in the last 12 months to expand its core businesses, following the purchase of four Warner’s Budgen food stores in the Cotswolds and three Childcare nurseries in the North East in late 2019.

Together, the 16 stores, which together employ 78 colleagues, have supported 25,000 passengers with their travel arrangements over the last 12 months. The move brings Midcounties’ portfolio of Co-operative Travel shops to over 70 and will extend the society’s reach in the east of England. 

“It helps us to consolidate our position as the UK’s leading co-operative travel group and is an example of the wider co-operative movement working together to reduce costs, while continuing to offer co-operative solutions to members’ travel needs,” said Phil Ponsonby, chief executive of Midcounties. 

Rad Sofronijevic, chief operating officer of Midcounties Co-operative’s travel division, added: “These have been extraordinary times for the whole travel sector, but with lockdown measures easing we’re well placed to grow from strength to strength.

“Travel is core to Midcounties’ long-term strategy and when we learned that Central England Co-operative was looking to emphasise its focus on other divisions and move away from Travel, we wanted to take the opportunity to bring these branches under the Midcounties retail umbrella and further strengthen our offering. 

“With our scale and expertise, we look forward to helping grow and nurture the former Central England Co-operative branches to ensure their success in the future”.

The majority of Midcounties’ existing Co-operative Travel branches have now re-opened following lockdown, with the remaining opening on 13 July. 

The 16 branches intended to transfer to Midcounties Co-operative are Allenton (Derbyshire), Atherstone (Warwickshire), Beccles & Lowestoft (Suffolk), Castle Donington, Glenfield, Ibstock & Whetstone (Leicestershire), Diss, Kings Lynn & Thetford (Norfolk), Erdington (West Midlands), Market Deeping (Lincolnshire), Oakham (Rutland), March & Peterborough (Cambridgeshire). For more information on Co-operative Travel, see www.cooptravel.co.uk.

Midcounties Co-operative is also raising awareness of the issue of VAT on sunscreen products. Sunscreen is currently classified in the UK as a “cosmetic product”. However, Cancer Research UK stated that getting sunburnt just once every two years can triple the risk of melanoma skin cancer, and that melanoma skin cancer incidence rates have more than doubled (135%) in the UK since the early 1990s.

Phil Ponsonby has written to Jesse Norman MP, financial secretary, saying it is time for sunscreen to be reclassified as an essential healthcare item.

“As chief executive of Co-op Midcounties, the UK’s largest independent co-operative which operates both the Co-op Pharmacy as well as 230 food retail stores, I am concerned that the UK continues to apply full 20% VAT on sunscreen products,” Mr Ponsonby wrote. 

“The average bottle of sunscreen costs £5-£7, with around £1.50 of this being the VAT charge applied. Removing VAT from these essential items will, therefore, play a significant part in making sunscreen more affordable and encouraging more people to protect themselves from the potentially harmful effects of too much sun.”

In order to raise awareness of this issue, Midcounties is currently covering the costs of VAT on sunscreen for its customers by reducing its sunscreen prices by 20%.

“We fully support the chancellor’s decision in the most recent budget to remove VAT from women’s sanitary products because they were, rightly, identified as essential items, and call on the Treasury to make a similar consideration in regards to sunscreen.”