Delivering real economic impact and commercial success without compromising value or social impact

Key learning from Scottish Government and Quebec Social Economy Policy Exchange

In May, Co-operative Development Scotland team leader, Darah Zahran, was invited to participate in the Scottish Government’s and Quebec Social Economy Policy Exchange Led by Social Enterprise World Forum and hosted by Chantier de L’Economie Sociale We caught up with Darah to find out more about what her key takeaways were from this insightful and inspiring programme.

Image of Darah Zahran

Quebec is a beautiful Province in Northeast Canada where Quebecers pride themselves on their heritage, culture and deep-rooted sense of fairness and integrity. In many ways this was a home from home for our Scottish delegation as we benefitted from the genuine warmth and welcome of Quebec’s key Social Economy flag bearers. This 6-day study visit at the end of May was a valuable opportunity to understand the Quebec inclusive models ecosystem and policy landscape. The programme was as varied as it was busy and included meetings with key stakeholders and intermediaries including, senior civil servants, the Quebec Federation of Co-ops, and visits to a range of working social enterprises and co-ops based in both Montreal and Quebec City. We also were fortunate to meet with Quebec’s Minister for the Economy – Christopher Skeete, who shared his enthusiasm for the value of private, public and third sector collaboration in the growth of Quebec’s economy.

We were a group of 7 – with Scottish Government’s Social Policy Team and the Social Enterprise World Forum leading the way. HIE, SOSE, Firstport and Social Investment Scotland were also represented as we spent a packed week engaged in non-stop learning, discussion, questioning and strategizing.

Scotland prides itself on having one of the most advanced policy landscapes and supportive ecosystems in the world for social enterprises and co-operatives but Quebec is undoubtedly on a par, if not slightly ahead. This has mainly been achieved through their decisive move, approximately 10 years ago, to place the Social Economy portfolio (similar to Scotland’s inclusive models descriptor of co-ops, employee owned businesses and social enterprises) into the main Economy Directorate. This allowed social entrepreneurism and shared ownership business models to go from strength to strength with Quebec’s economy currently benefitting from over 11, 200 inclusive model enterprises providing overall sales that exceed $47,8 billion (more than the construction, aeronautic, and mining industries combined). Over 220,000 people work in the social economy every day, in all sectors of activity from retail to the emerging technologies.  2,410 of these enterprises are non-financial co-ops with a further 350 operating as financial or mutual co-ops.

Given Scotland’s focus on developing a wellbeing economy and growing our inclusive models sector in line with our National Performance Framework, this visit was an opportunity to learn more about Quebec’s support for social investment, progressive socioeconomic strategy and policy, business support, social procurement, legislation and legal forms. The ground-breaking introduction of a Social Economy Act drives a 5 yearly Social Economy Plan which is presented to Parliament and owned by the Economy Minister, giving it real weight and validation in terms of economic development consciousness and commitment. Indeed, while we were there the Regional Government announced a $2,350,000 non‑repayable contribution to our hosts, the Chantier de l’économie sociale, in support of their mission to create favourable conditions and public policies for stronger social entrepreneurship and raise awareness of its valuable contribution to a more democratic, sustainable, and fair economy.

There were so many incredibly successful and passionate entrepreneurs willing to share their insights and experiences during our week but what struck me was the sheer scale of some of the projects we visited. Like Scotland, Quebec has a number of large buildings and disused sites, in prime locations, and at risk of long-term abandonment and dilapidation. Many (but not all) of these were religious property assets of a significant size which have recently been transformed into multi-faceted hubs, accommodating a range of socially-led, commercial businesses and facilities. These provide many services, products and community impacts for residents and consumers through strong enterprising models.  

We saw  innovative approaches in operation, bringing together regeneration initiatives, social impact, entrepreneurial expertise and creative design through effective co-operation and collaboration. Maison Mère Baie St-Paul, a large, converted convent in a small community outside Quebec City was one of three similar enterprises visited, and demonstrated the economic value of combining place-led opportunities with strong business acumen and purpose-led culture through a café facility, concerts, art exhibitions, business offices and commercial venues.

In the heart of Montreal we visited Angus, an old Canadian Pacific Railway site which has been renovated into an entire social innovation district and includes executive business premises, a shopping arcade and food court, a medical centre, student accommodation, a museum, and many other business outlets. This renovation, led by the social economy sector, has transformed a disused industrial site which was previously the workplace of 1000 people. Strong partnerships, investment and multi-stakeholder co-operation has resulted in a bustling, award-winning, purpose-led, and sustainable urban eco-district fit for the future and has breathed life back into an area of Montreal that was previously at risk of severe decline.     

 CETAL and PRISE in Quebec City were also great examples of strong manufacturing businesses employing disadvantaged workers to fulfil competitive contracts (including Starbucks and the national school bus service). Ensuring meaningful work is available for people furthest from the labour market has created a strong dedicated workforce which enables these organisations to both support their worker communities appropriately and successfully deliver services and products commercially.

My time in Quebec reminded me of the art of the possible and what can be done at scale to deliver real economic outputs and commercial success without compromising value or social impact.

In Scotland we have the history, passion and policy instruments that favour a strong and fair economy and can easily match Quebec’s proven ability to turn progressive thinking into purposeful action on an industrial scale.  Having seen the strong positioning of the social economy in Quebec’s policy landscape and its positive impact, I am excited to see how the collective might of all our inclusive model actors and ambassadors in Scotland can drive a national mindset that embraces sustainable and responsible economic growth – achieving the ideal balance between commercial success and social stability for our economy, people and planet.

Inclusive Models in Scotland

Find out more about support for inclusive business models in Scotland available via Co-operative Development Scotland

Employee ownership key to retaining and developing businesses in Northern Ireland

DLD Fund & Chartered Accountants Ulster Society Employee Ownership Breakfast Series – June 2024

Earlier this month, Co-operative Development Scotland employee ownership specialist Glen Dott was asked to speak at a series of breakfast events across Northern Ireland showcasing the success and uptake of employee ownership in Scotland. We caught up with him to find out more about the events and what is happening in Northern Ireland to support the model as a business succession option.

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The Scottish Co-operative Discovery Centre to celebrate Scottish Co-operative Movement

A community group in West Lothian are on their way to creating the first centre dedicated to the story of the Scottish co-operative movement.

Group of employees from the Co-op Discovery Centre

West Calder & Harburn Community Development Trust (WCHCDT) plans to create a hands-on, experiential, fun discovery & learning centre based around co-operative heritage that will create a nationally recognised attraction with café and event space, boosting local footfall and creating jobs.

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Meet Dave Routledge, a passionate employee ownership advocate

Our employee ownership learning journey to Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire is taking place on 28 & 29 February 2024.

To help give a flavour of what to expect as part of the learning journey we caught up with guest speaker and workshop leader Dave Routledge, a passionate employee ownership advocate for most of his career who has held leadership roles in a number of employee-owned companies, as well as serving on the board of the Employee Ownership Association.

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Is starting a co-op right for you?

We’re getting ready to host our first co-op masterclasses next month. In the run up to the event we caught up with co-op specialist Suzanne Orchard to find out more about the new events and what is in store for those who sign up.

Picture of Suzanne Orchard“As Scotland strives to create a wellbeing economy, co-ops can play a critical role in realising that ambition.  They are proven to be resilient and contribute significantly to the economy, by delivering beyond the measure of GDP. They are democratic, fair businesses that place profit on an equal footing to planet and people, delivering positive impacts for the communities they serve.


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EOA Conference 2023 – Top 5 Takeaways

Collage of event pictures featuring stage with presentation, proudly employee owned logo and Glen Dott.

Our specialist adviser Glen Dott attended the recent EOA Conference 2023 which took place in Liverpool on 27-28 November 2023.  With 2 days of jam-packed activities, from keynote speakers, breakout sessions, silent theatre, fireside chats to the exhibition area, conference dinner and networking opportunities, we caught up with Glen for his top five takeaways from the conference: 

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New platform co-op to support a sustainable and thriving hospitality industry

This summer has seen one of the most significant announcements in the co-op sector in Scotland for some time. Long established online restaurant deals and reservation provider, 5pm, have signalled their intentions to completely overhaul their operating model and transition to a co-operative, creating what is thought to be the first platform of its type in the world. Owned by hospitality businesses, this new co-op known as Kooble has unveiled its ground-breaking platform, poised to shake up the online booking market.

With their journey well underway and formal launch planned for the the new year, we caught up with 5pm founder Ronnie Sommerville to find out more.

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Business Support Needs of Co-operatives in Scotland

Over the summer we issued an invite to the co-op sector to share their insights with us and help us inform our plans for 2023.  With the responses now in and feedback collated, our specialist advisor, Stewart Macgregor outlines some of the key findings in our latest blog article:

Stewart MacgregorAs the only public-sector-funded service in Scotland dedicated to supporting economic growth by increasing the number of co-operatives, Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS) must ensure that co-ops have a greater role and voice to inform the areas of support that we provide.

With that goal in mind, we devised the ‘Business Support Needs of Co-operatives in Scotland’ survey to help us understand the key sectors that co-ops are working in, the support that new and existing co-ops have accessed in the last 12 months, and the areas of support they would benefit from over the next 12 months.

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Highlights from the Oxford Symposium

The second annual Oxford Symposium on Employee Ownership took place last month.  Organised by Graeme Nuttall OBE and Professor John Hoffmire, the aim is to bring together individuals and organisations active in employee ownership policy-making from across the world to share ideas and learning.   The number of nations represented was impressive: there were at least 20 countries attending including Australia, Japan, Denmark, Slovenia, Canada and the US. Co-operative Development Scotland were pleased to report strong Scottish representation and we caught up with Simon Poole of Jerba Campervans who shares his experience in our latest blog article. 

Group of Jerba Campervans employees standing in front of campervan

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No Succession-style drama here – Alexander (Scotland) & Co Ltd and Glen Drummond Chartered Accountants make the move to employee ownership

While one trades in Steel and the other in Numbers, two more Scottish companies – Alexander (Scotland) & Co and Glen Drummond Chartered Accountants – have proved they see the value in becoming employee-owned, handing their respective employees a 100% share via the creation of an employee ownership trust (EOT).

It is a choice being made by an increasing number of companies in Scotland as the employee ownership business model becomes more widely understood. We caught up with current owner of Mr Glenn Maclachlan of Alexander (Scotland) & Co and Chris Wilson CA, director of Glen Drummond to find out more about each of their moves.

Group of employees outside Alexander Scotland premisese. Company sign and vehicle visible in background
Employees from Alexander (Scotland) & Co Ltd based in Striling

“Alexander (Scotland) & Co Ltd has been serving steel customers across Central Scotland for almost 75 years. From humble beginnings at a small premises in Stirling, with just a horse and cart for delivery, the company has grown to forty employees with two premises in Stirling and one in Bathgate,” explains Glenn.

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An altogether different way to do business- with New Leaf Co-op

This Co-op Fortnight we’re joining with Co-operatives UK and the co-op sector to celebrate how co‑operatives offer an altogether different way to do business. We thought this was a great opportunity to catch up with an established co-op. In our newest blog article, Sally Green of Edinburgh based New Leaf chats to us about why a co-op model works for their members and their customers and how its helping them navigate the challenges of the cost of living crisis.

Sally Green sranding outside New Leaf Co-op with a box of produce

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Meet our specialist advisors

Last month we launched our brand-new Inclusive Business Models Video Guide which demonstrates the type of business models our team can support. Each video stars one of our specialist advisors so in our latest blog article, we’re shining a light on them to find out more about who they are and why they love working with employee-owned businesses and co-ops.  

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Scotland welcomes three new employee-owned businesses

It was a great start to 2023 for employee ownership as three Scottish businesses implemented an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT), safeguarding the long-term future of their companies, retaining jobs, skills and investment. We caught up with Clare Alexander, Head of Co-operative Development Scotland, to find out more.

SVM Glasgow, Stoneywood Care Services in Denny and Oliver Chapman Architects in Edinburgh have all made the move to employee ownership since the start of 2023.  Our team were pleased to be involved in the early stages of the process for each by providing advice and support via a 100% funded ownership succession review and employee ownership feasibility study.

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Accountancy pointers for business owners considering an EOT

In advance of the third and final webinar in the Employee Ownership Explained series, we caught up with guest speaker, Linzi Wilson from Consilium Chartered  Accountants, for a few pointers to help business owners considering an EOT make an informed decision.


Linzi Wilson is Corporate Finance Partner at Consilium Chartered Accountants. Linzi qualified in 2005 and has over 17 years’ experience in the Corporate Finance sector working with a range of clients, large and small, across a diverse range of industries. Linzi specialises in business sales, financial modelling, raising finance, and sourcing grant funding.

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From EO sceptic to EO evangelist

As part of our recent Employee Ownership Learning Journey we had the pleasure of hosting Andrew Lane, MD of Leeds based Union Industries as our after dinner speaker. Andrew shared his 15 years’ experience of employee ownership with the audience and describes how he moved from EO Sceptic to EO Evangelist….

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Employee Ownership Learning Journey 28 February – 1 March 2023

Our Employee Ownership Learning Journey covering Aberdeen, Tayport and Perth was the first face-to-face employee ownership event hosted by the Co-operative Scotland Team since the pandemic. Response was fantastic and very quickly all spaces were booked and we had to close registrations. Over 40 people attended at various parts of the two-day event: a good mix of current employee-owned companies, those considering employee ownership, advisers and other interested individuals.  Seven employee-owned business shared their employee ownership story, in what has been described as an “invaluable and enjoyable” event

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The legal aspects of the employee ownership transaction

Our Employee Ownership Explained Webinar Series kicked off last month with Graeme Nuttall sharing his insight on the employee ownership landscape and view of the future. The series continues with spaces still available at the remaining events. These expert webinars, aimed at professional advisers, will explore different aspects of employee ownership, equipping the audience to support their clients in making informed decisions.

In advance of the second webinar, we caught up with guest speaker, Bruce Farquhar from Anderson Strathern, for his thoughts on best practice when it comes to implementing the EOT.  

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Leadership Succession at Union Industries

We’ve just launched a free learning journey to the North East & Tayside area of Scotland to showcase examples of effective employee ownership in successful, growing businesses.

To help give a flavour of what to expect as part of the learning journey we caught up with guest speaker, Andrew Lane of Union Industries. Andrew was appointed in 2014 to lead Union Industries into employee ownership, the chosen exit strategy for founders Paul and Isobel Schofield, affectionately called Mr & Mrs S by the Union Industries family.

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