Co-op and mutual leaders call for political support as UK election looms

Sector leaders have written to the main party leaders, urging them to put the business model at heart of their growth plans

The chief executives of co-operative and mutual trade bodies have issued a joint letter to the leaders of the UK’s main political parties, highlighting the need to put the co-ops and mutuals at the centre of their growth plans. 

Addressed to Rishi Sunak (Conservative), Keir Starmer (Labour) and Ed Davey (Lib Dem) ahead of July’s general election, the letter calls “on the next government and Parliament to create a meaningful covenant between mutuals and co-operatives, government and society, based on the purpose-driven business model that delivers tangible benefits to our communities and wider society”.

“With the UK’s economic growth at the centre of the general election debate, the mutual and co-operative sector offers a real opportunity to build an inclusive, growing and diverse economy,” reads the letter. “Our members – mutual and co-operative businesses with over 74 million memberships – make a significant contribution to the UK economy, with combined annual revenues of £87.9bn, equating to 3.5% of UK GDP.

“However, their complex legal and regulatory frameworks can be a barrier to growth for mutuals and co-operatives and prevent them from fulfilling their potential to contribute even more to the economy and society as a whole.”

The letter, signed by Robert Kelly (CEO, Abcul), Andrew Whyte (CEO, Association of Financial Mutuals), Robin Fieth (CEO, Building Societies Association) and Rose Marley (CEO, Co-operatives UK), calls in particular for: the appointing of a minister for mutuals and co-operatives; the establishing of a British business bank fund for new and existing mutuals and co-operatives; and the delivering of the recommendations of the Law Commission review of friendly societies legislation and co-ops legislation within the first two years of the new Parliament. It also calls for a review of the case for mutualising the Post Office.

To support this, says the letter, there needs to be “an environment that places mutuals and co-operatives at the heart of a future government’s policy thinking and economic strategy, supporting the growth of the mutual sector,” alongside a supportive legislative and regulatory framework and a “genuinely mutual pools of capital to support new and growing mutuals and co-operatives”.

The letter builds on the work that the co-op and mutual sector has already done in preparing a joint prospectus which outlines the asks in further detail and a series of policy roundtables which have taken place across the UK over the last year. Policy roundtables were held in Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and Manchester between January and May 2024, bringing together politicians and influencers to agree on what co-ops and mutuals have to offer – and how to ensure this potential is harnessed by the next government.