Co-op Group joins business action pledge on early childhood

The Group will use its Local Community Fund and network of academies, and is drawing on the childcare expertise at Midcounties Co-op

Several UK firms, including the Co-op Group, have today (21 May) committed to action as the Royal Foundation Business Taskforce for Early Childhood publishes a report setting out the business case for prioritising early childhood.

The taskforce, established in March 2023 by the Princess of Wales to galvanise business action on early childhood, brought together representatives from eight businesses (the Co-op Group, Aviva, Deloitte, Iceland Foods, Ikea UK and Ireland, The Lego Group, NatWest Group and Unilever UK) to identify the scale of the opportunity and the role that business can play.

Produced by Deloitte on behalf of the taskforce, the ‘Prioritising early childhood for a happier, healthier society’ report sets out how a greater focus on early childhood would create a happier and more productive workforce, and transform the health and wellbeing of the UK economy and society for generations to come.

According to the report, investing in early childhood could generate at least £45.5bn in value added for the national economy each year. This includes £12.2bn from equipping people with improved social and emotional skills in early childhood, £16.1bn from reducing the need to spend public funds on remedial steps for adverse childhood experiences and £17.2bn from supporting parents and caregivers of under-fives who work.

“Co-op is proud to be a member of the Business Task Force, which aims to raise awareness of prioritising and investing in the early years of childhood,” said CEO Shirine Khoury-Haq.

“As a member-owned organisation with over 5 million members, and with a quarter of our 56,000 colleagues having caring responsibilities, we are absolutely committed to playing our part in the work of the case for change report. The report aims to transform the way in which society prioritises and supports children and their support networks in their earliest, and most formative, years.”

The Group’s commitments include extending support to community groups working with early-year children, such as baby banks, and inviting them to apply for funding from its Local Community Fund when it opens from June. It is also supporting the Baby Bank Alliance and the 20 primary schools in its Co-op Academies Trust with early years’ provision, and fundraising for Barnardo’s which focuses on young people aged 11 to 25, including young parents. 

Through its unique levy share scheme, which allows like-minded partners to pledge up to 50% of annual unspent apprenticeship levy funds and share them in a targeted way to support the provision of apprenticeships, the Group also announced it is creating a specific fund in support of early childhood, with a starting pledge of £1m from the Business Taskforce and a commitment to raising £5m over the next five years.

This will help fund over 600 apprenticeships, which will be allocated to support individuals starting or further developing careers working with children and families during early childhood, in a range of sectors across the UK. 

In addition, the Group introduced the Royal Foundation to Midcounties Co-op which operates 50 nurseries through its Little Pioneers business, and which supported the Group’s contribution to the Taskforce, drawing on its experience with early childhood provision. Little Pioneers is included as one of the report’s case studies, and Sally Bonnar (former MD of Little Pioneers) was interviewed as part of the intelligence-gathering process.

Midcounties also participated in a seminar organised by NatWest with other childcare providers and, along with the Group’s Academies, is due to participate in an initiative with Lego around social and emotional development. And the society has pledged £50k as part of the £1m commitment to the apprenticeship Levy Share.

“The work developing our unique levy share scheme to create a specific early years fund, will help give a much-needed boost and make an early year’s career path an attractive and exciting one to new entrants,” said Khoury-Haq. “In addition, extending our support through our Local Community Fund to community groups focusing on the early years, such as baby banks will make a real difference in driving the early childhood agenda forward.

“I hope that other businesses and business leaders, will review the case for change report and consider the key role that they can play in helping to shape early childhood.” 

The report itself identifies five areas in which businesses of all sizes can make the greatest impact for children under five, the adults around them, the economy and wider society. They include building a culture that prioritises early childhood and helping families access basic support and essentials; offering parents and carers greater support, resources, choice, and flexibility with their work; and prioritising and nurturing social and emotional skills in young children and the adults in their lives.

There is also a need to support initiatives which increase access to quality, affordable and reliable early childhood education and care, says the report.

“Today marks another milestone moment in our work to make early childhood a priority across society,” said Christian Guy, executive director of the Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood. “Some of the most significant businesses in Britain have joined forces to deliver a major rallying call to their fellow business leaders to prioritise young children and those who care for them – for the good of our society and economy.

“There is such enormous potential. We urge all businesses, no matter what their shape or size, to join us – the eight founding members, the Centre for Early Childhood, and The Princess – to help transform the way our country supports the vital early years.”