Author: Helen Dickson

Co-ops Fortnight 2022

It’s that time again when we join with our colleagues from Co-operatives UK and the Co-op sector to celebrate Co-ops Fortnight.

This year we have been invited to #UnwrapCoops and are celebrating the many different, inspiring ways that being part of a co‑op can make to people’s lives. We thought it was the perfect time to catch up with Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS) team leader, Darah Zahran for an update on the sector in Scotland.

One of the most satisfying developments of the last two years has been the louder voice around the social aspects of the economy and Covid-19 has undoubtedly fuelled its relevance. As Co-ops Fortnight comes around again- it is inspiring to look at what the sector has achieved in challenging circumstances, and also examine our collective ambitions for the future and the potential of co-ops to change communities and our economy.

Image of Darah Zahran

The pandemic had a massive economic impact globally and Scotland, like all countries, has been deeply affected. Despite these extreme challenges it is still possible to find positives, one being the growing interest and lasting desire to change the way we do business. During the early days of Covid-19, business leaders prioritised wellbeing, communities responded by supporting each other through the crisis, and new and innovative ways of being economically viable came to the fore. There was also a focus on a collective, rather than an individual, call to action. We’ve been driven not just to respond in the immediate term, but also to make choices about the sort of economy we want to have and to focus our efforts on resetting and rebuilding our economy. And it is this concept of Reset and Rebuild that CDS has focussed its messages around over the past two years.

The statistics from the Co-op economy published last year show the growing success and resilience in the sector. The sector across the UK grew by over £1bn in turnover to £39.7bn and twice as many co-ops were created as dissolved. Co-ops are also four times less likely to cease trading than businesses generally. 92% of co-ops have identified clear benefits of their model in dealing with the pandemic, with worker and freelancer co-ops well-placed to protect staff wellbeing and consumer and community co-ops well-placed to respond to community needs. Looking specifically at Scotland we now have 586 co-ops registered (an increase of 2.63%) with a turnover of £1.58bn (increase of 2.97%). https://www.uk.coop/get-involved/awareness-campaigns/co-op-economy  This coincides with increasing interest for our service in Scotland with the CDS team seeing a welcome rise in enquiries.

Which brings us to the future and our ambitions for the sector. We are in a very positive place in Scotland. Scotland’s National Economic Strategy for Transformation, was published in March 2022 and there is a clear commitment to embed inclusive models into the economic landscape going forward. The Scottish Government has committed to undertake and publish a review of how best to significantly increase the number of social enterprises, employee-owned businesses and co-operatives, supporting regional regeneration and the wealth of local communities. CDS welcomes this progressive approach and the opportunity to work closely with them to support this.

Community wealth building is another important feature of the Government’s economic strategy. This initiative directs wealth back into the local economy, placing control into the hands of local people and supports a wellbeing economy. The Scottish Government’s commitment to introduce Community Wealth Building legislation further underpins the importance of moving towards a more democratic economy. The models promoted by CDS are effective examples of plural ownership, one of the five pillars of Community Wealth Building deemed integral to effect the necessary change in wealth creation for local communities and greater national wellbeing. In CDS we are now working to make the most of the opportunities this approach presents and will support all community wealth building councils to tap into the resource offered by CDS and the wider ecosystem.

One of the key areas I would like to shine a light on this Co-ops Fortnight is our support offering to the sector. During 2021 CDS carried out a significant review of what we offer clients and worked with stakeholders to understand where our specialist advisors could add further value to the sector. As a result, we have developed our service offering to support the set-up of a broader range of co-operative models including consortium co-ops, community co-ops, worker co-ops and platform/digital co-ops. Traditionally our focus has always been on the start-up stage but we now also proactively offer support to existing co-ops to help them realise their full potential.

To find out more about the support we offer the sector, please visit our new website pages: www.scottish-enterprise.com/cds

Co-ops Fortnight runs between 20th June and 3rd of July. You can find out more or get involved here: https://www.uk.coop/get-involved/awareness-campaigns/co-op-economy

New project launched to support young entrepreneurs to create businesses with social purpose

Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS) has partnered with Youth Enterprise Scotland (YE Scotland) on a new initiative which provides the first comprehensive source of information on inclusive, values-led business models for young people. Together we aim to inspire young entrepreneurs to set up companies with a social or environmental purpose.

Gillian Kirton, project manager, Co-operative Development Scotland

To find out more about this innovative and exciting project, we caught up with Gillian Kirton, Project Manager at Co-operative Development Scotland.

“At CDS, we have seen growing interest from business leaders in co-operatives, employee-owned businesses, social enterprises, B-Corps, and community interest companies. This interest has grown further since the Covid-19 pandemic and as Scotland strives to become a wellbeing economy, there is a desire for change and for businesses to put people and planet on an equal footing to profit.  

“Our partners on the project, YE Scotland also report that the young people they work with are increasingly interested in developing businesses with a social and/or environmental purpose. This is further demonstrated by the research carried out by Co-operatives UK which showed two thirds of young people are looking for an ethical employer which treats customers and staff fairly and Co-ops UK believe that co-operatives can provide that solution. This sentiment is echoed by my own team. Inclusive, values led businesses have a positive impact for both the economy and society more widely. Purpose-driven companies have higher rates of employee engagement and are more resilient. However, despite the growing interest, there is still a lack of awareness of what inclusive models are and what they can offer. It’s this that CDS and YE Scotland hope to address through the Inclusive Models Project.   

“Together we have created a range of innovative, engaging and dynamic materials including videos and written cases studies that will increase understanding and knowledge of the benefits of a values-led approach in business. By bringing this information together in one place, we hope to inspire, encourage and celebrate more young entrepreneurs. We are grateful to have worked with a fantastic group of inspirational, socially minded businesses who contributed to the project and shared their story.

“It’s hoped that through our work with YE Scotland, via their successful programmes with schools and colleges, 16,000 young people will now be able to learn about the ever-increasing importance of such business models to the economy and to wider society.”

Our video case studies feature Brave Strong Beautiful, FutureX & WelcoMe, guitarguitar, Jangling Space, Prickly Thistle and The Apprentice Store.

This is supplemented by written case studies featuring the above businesses alonside Beauty Kitchen, Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative, Good-Loop, Hey Girls, The Turing Trust and Treen. These can be viewed here.

The project also included creation of a set of animations introducing a range of different business inclusive models. Each can be accessed below.

A full play list of video assets can found here.

For further information on the project please contact the Co-operative Development Scotland team here.

Award-winning construction management training firm transitions to Employee Ownership Trust

Construction management training company Esteem Training Limited has become the latest successful Scottish business to secure its future as an employee-owned enterprise.

With immediate effect, shares in Glasgow-based company previously owned by founder and director Trudy Mackenzie and fellow directors Ian Grigg and Martina Höfner have been transferred into an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT). Benefits of the transition to EOT include rewarding the contribution of its dedicated team for whom the development safeguards job security while ensuring that ownership of another successful independent, growing business remains in Scottish hands.

As they celebrate their 35th anniversary we catch up with Martina Höfner, operations director at the company and Clare Alexander of Co-operative Development Scotland to find out why employee ownership is their crowning achievement.

Esteem Training Photograph copyright Martin Shields

“Esteem Training enjoys long-term advanced vocational training partnerships with leading Scottish construction and civil engineering companies including Cala Group, Bell Group, CCG Group, George Leslie Limited and Haldane Construction Services through funding programmes managed by Skills Development Scotland. Esteem Training’s senior management team will remain involved with the business for the foreseeable future though now in the role of employees.

“Ethical business practice, celebrating diversity and nurturing talent to create opportunity lies at the heart of everything that we do. Research has shown that a combination of shared ownership and employee participation results in a business that is more engaged, productive, innovative and sustainable. We’re therefore delighted to make this important move to employee ownership to reward our outstanding team, ensuring that the future direction and ownership of the business remains in their capable hands,” says Martina Höfner, Esteem Training’s operations director.

Clare Alexander, head of Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS) who funded the employee ownership feasibility study said: “The move to employee ownership is a first-class way for Esteem Training to celebrate its 35th year in business, as well as giving recognition to the ongoing dedication of its workforce. Companies that embrace more inclusive business models such as employee ownership see higher levels of staff engagement, have much lower staff turnover and are usually more profitable – so it is both a good thing to do from a people perspective and it makes great business sense too.”

The EOT transition was project-managed by Co-ownership Solutions with legal services from Lindsays and financial input from Time 2 Adapt Limited. To read more about Esteem Training Story please read the full press release here.

To date, there are more than 170 employee-owned businesses operating in Scotland and more than 120 of these are Scottish-headquartered companies. To find out more about the support available to become employee owned please visit our web pages on the Scottish Enterprise website.

Glasgow digital agency announces move to employee ownership

Glasgow-based Spider Online has announced it is joining the growing number of employee-owned businesses in Scotland, with all staff given a stake in the company.

Founded by John Campbell and Tony O’Grady in 2004, Spider Online is an award-winning digital agency specialising in website and app delivery, serving customers across government, transport and HR. Clients include FirstGroup, Tesco Bank, COSLA, Audit Scotland, National Transport Authority Ireland, Imperial College London and Bristol Airport.

The change in business structure sees the formation of an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT), which holds 100% of the shares on behalf of the employees. As a result, John Campbell will move to the position of Chairman, with Ross Hamill becoming Managing Director. In our latest blog article, we catch up with John and Clare Alexander from Co-operative Development Scotland to find out more about the transition.

“We started the business three years before Steve Jobs launched the iPhone and four years before the financial crash – and I don’t think we ever thought it would still be around 18 years later. There have been so many technological, political and economic changes in that time, with numerous challenges, successes and failures, so it’s incredibly rewarding to see Spider Online prosper as a profitable business in a competitive sector.

“During this time we’ve also witnessed the development of our brilliant team. I’m proud of the people that have and continue to work with us. Now feels like the right time, along with support from Scottish Enterprise, to create an EOT allowing these talented people to take the business to the next stage and the next 18 years. I know that, as MD, Ross will guide our continued success and future growth.”

Head of Co-operative Development Scotland, Clare Alexander, added: “The number of employee-owned businesses in Scotland continues to grow and we’re delighted to add Spider Online to the list. This is a great business which is hugely successful in its field, and the transfer of ownership to its employees is a fantastic fit for its collaborative and innovative culture.

Spider Online were supported to transition to employee ownership by Co-operative Development Scotland. CDS funded a feasibility study, allowing its leadership to make an informed decision on whether to move to employee ownership. Once the company had decided to proceed, its transition was project-managed by 4-consulting, with legal services from Blackadders and financial inputs from Milne Craig.

To find out more about employee ownership and the support available, please visit: www.scottish-enterprise.com/eo

Platform co-ops – your route to an ethical digital business

Ludovica Rogers

In our latest blog, we are pleased to welcome Ludovica Rogers, Programme Manager, New Co-op Ventures at Co-operatives UK who shares her insight on how co-ops can provide a more ethical, values lead approach to digital business.

The rise of digital platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo may have provided consumers with greater choice and convenience, but it’s come at a cost – to the riders, drivers and others on the frontline of those services. The gig economy that’s emerged through these digital innovations has exploited regulations, increased precarious working and created the conditions for tech giants to dominate markets.   

There is a fairer alternative though: platform co-ops. These are democratically owned and controlled businesses that use an online platform or app to trade. A platform co-op is built on co-operative principles and values that ensure the business truly responds to the needs of its community and embeds equity from day one. The co-op model also keeps control away from external profit driven investors. 

Platform co-ops put the power, profits and control in the hands of the people providing the service and, in some cases, the service users too. BSL interpreting service Signalise is a perfect example. Based in Merseyside, Signalise uses a digital platform that brings together Deaf people, British Sign Language interpreters and health staff, doing away with the profit-led corporations that have traditionally been the connection between these groups. 

Both service providers and users have a stake in the co-op and they’re the ones in control. Interpreters and deaf members come together to collaborate, discuss and drive the business, for their mutual benefit. 

Wings delivery service in North London is a platform co-op created in direct response to the gig economy in which riders’ earnings are unpredictable and often below the minimum wage. Launched in July 2021, Wings pays riders a guaranteed London Living Wage. It also provides them with job security, sick pay and benefits. 

Wings operates with 100% zero-carbon vehicles and is committed to prioritising local, independent businesses over big chains. It was set up with the support of the UnFound Accelerator – a 10-week development programme for start-up businesses that use mobile apps or online platforms to provide services and solutions.  

Delivered by Co-operatives UK and Stir to Action, supported by The Co-operative Bank, the UnFound Accelerator draws on an extensive network of experts to help platform co-ops plan their businesses and develop their products, strategy, branding and marketing. The next Unfound Accelerator will be running in spring 2022 and applications will be open from 6 December 2021. Find out more here.

Open Food Network UK is another platform pioneer. It’s a co-op that brings together many different organisations whose members collectively own and control an innovative software platform they use to trade the food they produce.   

The co-op’s membership comprises food hubs, farmers, growers, community food enterprises, shoppers and buyers. The software allows them to connect with everybody else in the country using the platform, and to create their own online shop fronts. 

Trading this way creates short supply chains – where the distance between food and fork is as short as possible, which reduces costs, waste and environmental impact. 

An English language school, wine merchant, taxi app and social care provider – these are other examples from the burgeoning platform co-op movement. It’s not just about creating better conditions for workers– it’s about using technology innovatively and ethically to find solutions that meet a need while benefiting everyone involved. 

Free business support programme for ethical digital start-ups  

If you are interested in Platform Co-ops and would like to access support, Co-operatives UK and the Co-operative Bank deliver support via The UnFound Accelerator. This is a free programme for digital start-ups that supports founders in turning their pioneering ideas into successful platform coops. 

The 10-week programme draws on an extensive network of experts to help platform co-ops plan their businesses and develop their products, strategy, branding and marketing. 

At the end of the 10-week accelerator, teams are invited to pitch their idea to a live audience for the chance to win a share of a £10,000 prize fund donated by The Co-operative Bank. 

The deadline for applications is midnight 6 March. Go to www.unfound.coop/accelerator to find out more and apply. 

Alternatively you can also talk to Co-operative Development Scotland by contacting us here.

Community businesses working with places of worship

In our latest blog article, we welcome Susie Middleton from the Plunkett Foundation, who shares her thoughts on how community business co-locating in places of worship create mutual benefits and have a positive impact on the local area.

I joined Plunkett Foundation in October as a project manager within the Community Business Team. Plunkett operates across all 4 UK nations, providing access to advice and expertise for the benefit of community businesses. We’ve been helping communities, predominantly in rural areas, for over 100 years to create innovative, impactful and inclusive places, through promoting and supporting community ownership of assets and services.

Currently only around 1 in 10 groups that contact Plunkett for support to set up a community business will ever reach trading status. There can be many reasons that prevent the groups from realising their community-ownership ambitions, but the lack of available or suitable premises from where to trade is a common problem they face.

At the same time, many places of worship such as churches, are seeing reduced congregations and are actively seeking ways to increase footfall, strengthen their already important role at the heart of their community, and create an income stream which contributes to the upkeep of these often historic buildings.

Plunkett is part of a coalition of organisations campaigning to promote the benefits of community businesses co-locating in places of worship. There are wonderful examples of this model already helping community businesses and churches alike to flourish, with shops, cafes, farmers markets, performance spaces and renewable energy schemes already operating from within church buildings across the UK.

We recently ran a webinar featuring two community shops that successfully operate from active places of worship. Committee members from each community group told us about how the model has benefitted their communities and why churches proved to be great locations for their ideas.

Other examples include the Grindleford Community Shop, the focus of another webinar this year, which covered how it was set up and how it continues to benefit both its community and the church in which it is based.

We are delighted to be working with the Allchurches Trust to support its ‘Places of Worship’ campaign and provide specialist support and bespoke advice to community groups and Christian places of worship throughout the UK. Plunkett can advise projects at all stages of their journey to trading, from consulting your community to raising the funds for your project. Through our membership scheme we also offer enhanced, longer term support for these businesses.

Recognising that access to funding is critical in the early stages of a project’s development, Allchurches funding has enabled Plunkett to offer small grants of up to £5,000 to support a group’s development and help with the costs of any feasibility work being completed. The funding could also pay for Plunkett Business Membership which may be of interest to those wanting to use the Model Rules service offered by Plunkett, to support a group to register their legal form with the Financial Conduct Authority. The funding aims to help turn ideas in to projects, with our advisers offering support at every stage.

More information can be found here on the Plunkett website or by calling 0845 5571469.

Happy New Year from Co-operative Development Scotland

From the CDS team

As 2020 drew to a close we looked back on a year like no other, but little did we realise the next 12 months would be very similar. Although we are still in the throes of the pandemic, it’s been a busy time for Co-operative Development Scotland and the sector. Momentum continues to grow and more businesses and communities are now looking to values led and democratic approaches to build a stronger and fairer economic future. As we enter 2022 we reflect on a busy and rewarding year.  

2021 has seen continued growth in the employee ownership sector. There were around 18 business sales to an Employee Ownership Trust including Lisle Design, Paul Heat Recovery, Swansons, ics2 Cables, Aquasign, Onestop Access, Dazzle Inkspot , TEFL Organisation, Christie Gillespie CE, Microtech, Altar, Wee Blue Coo, Quantics, Heatherlea, and Greentech Sportsturf. Highland-based Reid & Fraser Chartered Accountants also became employee-owned becoming Scotland’s first employee-owned full-service accountancy firm. This brings around 170 employee-owned businesses operating in Scotland with around 120 Scottish headquartered employee-owned companies.

Succession masterclasses

Interest in becoming employee-owned is high and we engaged with business owners via a programme of succession masterclasses throughout the year to give valuable insight into the benefits of employee ownership as an exit strategy.  Case study companies who generously contributed their time included MHB Consultants, Network ROI, Chemco International, Heatherlea, Swansons Food Wholesalers and Woollard & Henry.  We were able to tap into the expertise of our Employee ownership specialist advisers including Ralph Leishman, 4c consulting, Carole Leslie, Ownership Associates and Andrew Harrison Co-ownership Solutions. Two further webinars are planned for 2022.

Employee Ownership Explained Webinar Series 2021

We ran a series of webinars aimed primarily at Scotland’s professional advisers. The Employee Ownership Explained Webinar Series, tackled subjects including the EOT – using the legislation to achieve the best outcome, financial planning for an EOT transaction and the role of the bank in an EOT transaction.  Many thanks to guest speakers Graeme Nuttall OBE, Field Fisher, Tom O’Brien and Zoe Gillespie from Brewin Dolphin and Andy Scott from RBS.

Employee Ownership Essential Leadership Programme  

Scottish Enterprise, SfEO and Connect Three came together to pilot an ‘Employee Ownership Essential Leadership Programme’.  A taster session held in 2020 with the workshops taking place in early 2021.  Aimed at leaders in businesses that are employee-owned or in the transition phase to employee ownership the programme offered a leadership development experience with a focus on impact as a leader, innovation, fair work, leading change, and inclusive ownership.

Our Podcasts

The Reset and Rebuild podcast was launched in March and proved very popular as an introduction to inclusive business models such as employee ownership, consortium co-operatives and community co-operatives, and explored the role they play in building an economy that puts people and planet before profit.  

In early 2019, we launched a podcast series entitled ‘The Employee Ownership Podcast’.  Nine  new episodes were added in 2021.  Guest speakers included employee-owned Mediascape, ITWorx, MHB Consultants, GS Brown, Pacific Building, ESPL, Guard Archaeology and Cameron Interiors, employee ownership specialists Andrew Harrison, Co-ownership Solutions, Carole Leslie, Ownership Associates and Ralph Leishman, 4c-consulting, and professional advisers Douglas Roberts, Lindsays, Bruce Farquhar, Anderson Strathern, Linzi Wilson, Consilium Chartered Accountants and Colin Grant from Time2Adapt.

 Community Business

Interest in community business has been growing for some time and we are seeing many inspiring stories emerging. The Old Forge Inn in Knoydart has earned itself the title of the most remote pub in the UK and when the current owner decided to sell, locals came together to bring  the pub under community ownership for the benefit of all its customers. They issued a share offer and smashed their initial target within a week and went on to raise £256,035. They have gone on to secure further funding from the Scottish Land Council and we look forward to seeing how the story progresses in 2022.

We continue to value our partnership work with Community Share Scotland and the Plunkett Foundation and the work we do together to provide support to community businesses. This year we launched a new video guide to help community groups find out a little more about community businesses, what the potential for them is and where to get support.

The continuation of our Making it Easy: Community Business online event once more gave community groups the opportunity to hear directly from those who are running or in the process of setting up community businesses and find out about the support available. Our most recent event was held in November and featured the Old Forge Inn, Community Carrot, Projects MCR and People Powered Retrofit. The event can be viewed here.

Looking forward to 2022 we are in no doubt there are challenges ahead for all of us but we firmly believe, as we saw in 2021, interest in employee ownership and co-ops will continue to grow and play an increasingly important role in our economy. We are kicking off the year with an exciting new event with the Hive at Co-ops UK introducing platform co-ops and as we work towards the Scottish Government goal of creating 500 EOBs by 2030 we anticipate a busy year with many exciting stories to tell.

Inspiring community businesses

Picture of Suzanne Orchard

In our latest blog article, we catch up with Suzanne Orchard, Specialist in our team at Co-operative Development Scotland to find out about our recent webinar Community Business: Making it Easy.

Community Business: Making it Easy is a partnership between Co-operative Development Scotland, the Plunkett Foundation and Community Shares Scotland to raise awareness of community business and the available support in Scotland. The partnership creates a one-stop-shop for community business and promotes the collective support package available to ensure a straightforward, streamlined service for clients. In addition to the support, we enjoy hosting intro webinars where we give the opportunity to community groups at any stage of their journey to hear from a selection of inspirational speakers who have already launched or are well on the way to running successful community businesses.

Community business is a growing sector and that was demonstrated by the interest in the community webinar. This is the third of this type of event run by the partners and it’s heartening to see a continued and growing interest from community groups and that this coincides with an increase in enquiries. There is an appetite for change, likely fuelled by the challenges of the last few years and increasingly communities are coming together to take control of the opportunities around them and anchor wealth locally.

The speakers who joined us to share their inspiring stories included The Dunbar Bakery, Old Forge Inn, People Powered Retrofit and Projkt MCR. The Old Forge Inn and Dunbar Bakery are perfect examples of community co-ops and the kind of projects that are gaining momentum in Scotland, but what struck me on the day was the variety in the case studies. The Old Forge Inn and Dunbar Bakery both enrich their community by providing important assets to that community but also employment opportunities. People Powered Retrofit showed us something less common in Scotland where they are working to help householders in Manchester retrofit their homes to reduce energy bills, cut carbon emissions and improve their health and Projkt MCR, a community owned skate-park have created an amazing resource for the locals but also tackles issues such as inclusion and neighbourhood safety. The scope and the potential for businesses created and lead by the communities that benefit from them, is significant.

You can watch the full video of the event here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKZdeHu5L9E

Image showing community shop

All the case studies spoke of their experiences, both the positive and some of the difficulties they faced along the way. Whilst co-ops are resilient and more likely to survive periods of economic downturn than other businesses there are always challenges that can arise from funding to structuring the organisation to community engagement. One of the resounding messages was that there is a vast network of support out there and organisations like CDS, Plunkett and Community Shares Scotland are able to help.

Find out more about the support available here: https://communitysharesscotland.org.uk/making-it-easy/

Can co-ops drive climate action?

With COP-26 underway, messages about the climate emergency will dominate all media outlets over the next few weeks and well into the future as we try to grapple with what is by far the most important issue globally. As the delegates arrive in Glasgow, we thought it was timely to catch up with Darah Zahran, team leader at Co-operative Development Scotland (part of Scottish Enterprise) on how Co-ops can play a part in supporting the climate agenda.

During the COP-26 summit, we will all look to world leaders to drive significant and long-lasting change. It is sometimes easier to look for answers from others and with the significant challenges our planet faces, there is no doubt that strong leadership is of vital importance, but we can all play a part by considering what we buy, our transport methods, how we spend our time and importantly how we do business.

Increasingly our team has been making connections between co-ops and more sustainable ways of doing businesses. We work with many community co-ops where care for the environment is a critical part of their ethos. A great example is the Isle of Eigg Brewery, Scotland’s first co-operative brewery. They are a people-centred, values-based business who also strive to be as low carbon as possible.  We also work with many community shops who prioritise local suppliers, adopting a business approach which, by its very nature, produces less carbon than sourcing from those further away. Energy is another critical sector where we see a lot of interest as communities meet consumers’ needs in a much less harmful way, while generating income to reinvest in the community. Our recent guest blog from Community Shares Scotland is a great source for more information about these businesses.

In time for COP-26, our partners at Co-ops UK published a significant report titled The race to net zero: The role of co-ops in driving climate action post-COP26. The report shows what we were already sure of, that co-ops are taking the issues of climate seriously. 66% of the co-ops surveyed are taking action to reduce carbon emissions. 23% have gone as far as publishing a strategy to achieve net zero and 61% are taking action to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases they produce. Those are significant stats when you compare them to the UK’s FTSE 100 companies where only 30% have pledged to eliminate their carbon emissions by 2050. However, there is more to be done and the scale of change across the co-op sector, as with wider business, is significant. The survey identifies where further support is required: 41% of participants wish for more grant funding to be made available to implement net zero strategies and 40% wish to access expert advice and guidance on developing low carbon or net zero strategies.

The co-op sector is an exciting place to work and provides hope for a better way of doing business that puts people and planet before profit. As the sector grows and with good access to support, we believe values-led, inclusive business models will play a key role in balancing our environmental, economic and social responsibilities through fairer business practices. Find out about the support available to set up a Co-op on the Scottish Enterprise Website: https://www.scottish-enterprise.com/our-organisation/about-us/who-we-work-with/co-operative-development-scotland

The role of community business in shaping our future

This month we are pleased to feature a guest blog from Katie Little from Community Shares Scotland. Read on to find out more about Katie’s thoughts on the role of community enterprise in the race to zero .

With the COP26 conference starting next week and an increasing focus on a community wealth building agenda, the role that community enterprise can play in shaping the future of our just transition to net zero is becoming increasingly evident. Recent conferences from the Scottish Government’s Community and Renewable Energy Scheme and the Development Trusts Association Scotland have reinforced this, focusing on community-led climate action and featuring case studies highlighting the breadth of action that is going on on the ground in communities across Scotland.

Since Community Shares Scotland was launched 7 years ago, we have supported dozens of successful community share offers. In that time, no sector has seen more investment than community owned hydro, driven by schemes such as Harlow Hydro and Cumhacd Shlèite, who want to support sustainable economic, environmental and social development in their communities. By generating clean, green energy these renewable energy projects have been able to use the income generated through electricity sales for community benefit, in addition to raising awareness of environmental issues and community ownership. Due to a lack of accessible land and the current limited profitability of such schemes (as a result of the Feed in Tariffs coming to an end) these kinds of community enterprises aren’t possible for every community. So what are other Scottish community businesses doing?

During Climate Fringe Week, Community Shares Scotland highlighted some of the other enterprises that are playing their part in the just transition.

Isle of Eigg Brewery is the first brewery in Scotland to be wholly owned as a community benefit society, and their ethos is to be as low carbon as possible. They hope to achieve this through a variety of methods including installing solar panels and battery technology to harness renewable energy; creating self-sufficiency throughout the brewing and fermenting processes with heat generated from brewing fed back into the system as well as creating local jobs in the process.

Loch Ness hub, a community owned tourism hub which provides information, tours and baggage transfers for tourists visiting Glen Urquhart and Loch Ness are championing a greener, slower tourism approach. They are developing active travel paths in the area; introducing bike and e-bike hire, expanding the EV charging network as well as introducing car sharing schemes.

So what might be the next trend for community enterprise? A recent community share offer was launched by Manchester based People Powered Retrofit, a not-for-profit, community energy co-operative designed to help households source reliable retrofit services, creating greener, more energy efficient homes in Greater Manchester. With an estimated 50,000 non-domestic buildings and up to 1 million domestic homes in Scotland needing to be decarbonised as we transition to net zero, there could be an opportunity for communities to take advantage of this bottom up approach to meeting the carbon neutral challenge.

People Powered Retrofit demonstrates the possibilities for community enterprise on a bigger scale, but there are other opportunities for community groups looking to establish a profitable community business and using the community shares model is just one method to do so. It could be a community EV charge point, or peer to peer car sharing scheme. Or if an asset is already owned by the community, upgrading to become more carbon-friendly could create long-term sustainability. A recent webinar by the Community Ownership Support Service provides examples of how to do just that.

If you have an idea for a business that will benefit your community and maybe even the environment, Community Shares Scotland, together with our partners the Plunkett Foundation and Co-operative Development Scotland will be hosting an inspirational webinar event on the 24th November. We will have presentations from successful community enterprises as well as a Q&A with our staff so why not register for a ticket and see how community businesses can create fairer, more sustainable and more interesting places to live.

Employee-owned Aquascot accelerates their ambition to become a smart factory

Despite the challenges of Covid-19, Scotland’s largest employee-owned headquartered company, Alness-based sustainable seafood company, Aquascot, succeeded in digitalising production and quality assurance over the last 12 months. In our newest blog we catch up with John Housego, managing director to find out more about the significance of the project and what it will do for the business.

Aquascot’s IT estate of legacy systems had evolved to include lots of manual workarounds, paper-based processes, and difficulty in getting visibility of data. The business was at a crossroads, whether to keep investing in the current systems or look to buy new ones.

“By the end of this year the whole of our IT infrastructure will have completely changed. This offers up a wealth of new opportunities for us, not only with our customers but our business tracking and awareness, and product positioning. In a highly competitive market, we will have the data to be able to focus on improvements and then meet the need.”

Working with partners, FluidIT, the benefits the project will bring include:

  • Production areas are paper-free, and Quality Assurance is fully digitalised with a new quality assurance management system, Q-Pulse. This technology enables Aquascot to continue improving their throughput, quality and consistency.
  • The commercial data dashboards with PowerBI show actual-versus-forecast sales / orders in real time. As a result, time spent on manually processing and reporting is significantly reduced.
  • Aquascot has also selected a new ERP/ MES system from software provider SI (Systems Integration), which will be implemented within the next three months, and will make the capture of shop-floor data easier. Another benefit from the new system is traceability – knowing exactly where each product was farmed, when it was processed and how long for. This information needs to be readily accessible, as food safety governing bodies can carry out spot checks at random.
  • Microsoft 365 is fully implemented across the organisation, including a communication portal using SharePoint, which partners have christened ‘AquaSpace’. IT champions were chosen within each department to receive training on the portal – so they can take ownership to post news articles, events and opportunities on behalf of their colleagues, while all partners have the capacity to interact on the SharePoint through a Yammer social media feed.

The business now has a digital roadmap, setting out a step-by-step process to achieve full digital transformation, over the next three to five years. This innovative approach will ensure Aquascot remains one of the UK’s major seafood processors and pushes them further towards their goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

To find out more about Aquascot and their story please visit their website: https://aquascot.com/latest-news

Are you thinking of selling your business?

Employee ownership specialist adviser Glen Dott shares why succession planning should be dealt with sooner rather than later and shares details on a series on upcoming succession masterclasses. 

Planning for succession is one of the biggest challenges a business owner will face. When you’ve worked hard to build up your business, what do you do when it comes time to stop? Whether you’re looking to hand over the reins of your business soon or simply planning for the long-term, make sure you explore all the available options in advance to allow time for plans to be properly drawn up. Giving the topic early consideration can mean better results for the employer, the employees and the business. 

Succession options to consider include: 

  • Sale to another shareholder 
  • Company buy-back 
  • Ownership transfer within the family 
  • Employee buyout 
  • Management buyout 
  • Trade sale 
  • Flotation 

Employee buyouts are becoming an increasingly popular succession option in Scotland. Being employee-owned gives staff a meaningful stake in the business, boosting productivity and performance, whilst ensuring the company is anchored in the local area, retaining jobs and skills. For business owners, employee ownership offers a tax efficient exit route that protects a company’s legacy while providing a competitive price for the business.   

To help you decide whether an employee buyout could work for you, Co-operative Development Scotland will be hosting a series of five ‘Selling your Business’ online masterclasses over the coming months, exploring succession options including employee ownership.  

If you are a business owner considering an exit from your company, these masterclasses are an excellent opportunity to hear from succession and employee ownership specialists, as well as employee-owned companies themselves. View the full here

Community Business: Making it easy- New video guide available

The community business sector in Scotland is growing and, to support this, Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS) is working in partnership with Community Shares Scotland (CSS) and the Plunkett Foundation to raise awareness and improve access to support.  The partnership has just launched a new video guide which introduces the subject of community business – so we caught up with our co-ops specialist, Jaye Martin, to find out more about the sector, the support available and why now is a key moment for community business in Scotland.

CDS has always supported community businesses and we have consistently seen interest from clients in this area but there has been a change of pace most noticeably in the last 12 months. Two key reasons for this are firstly, the ecosystem in Scotland has evolved with organisations like CDS, CSS and the Plunkett Foundation raising awareness of the benefits and providing support and advice.   Secondly, the pandemic has shone a light on how we do businesses and created a desire for change.  Everyone, particularly those in rural communities, has been very dependent on their local services and now, more than ever, there may be a desire to preserve and develop the resources that are important to those communities.  Community businesses, especially community co-operatives, place democracy and concern for community at the heart of what they do and can provide an alternative way of working that has captured the interest of individuals, communities and businesses.

To improve access to support, CDS, CSS and the Plunkett Foundation offer a collaborative support package to help anyone considering setting up a community business in Scotland. A wide range of advice and practical support is available, including:

  • Choosing the best business model
  • Selecting a suitable legal structure
  • Accessing funding
  • Developing a community share offer
  • Community engagement, including promoting a community share offer
  • Company governance and managing the daily running of your business
  • Specialist support for community business in rural communities

Our new video guide is a great introduction to the subject and the available support.

To find out more about Community Business Making it Easy visit:  https://communitysharesscotland.org.uk/making-it-easy/

Community Owned Businesses – The Journey

There is growing recognition of the value of community businesses, preserving community assets and generating economic value for their communities. COVID-19 has clearly demonstrated the importance of supporting communities to be innovative and take the step towards generating wealth locally, avoiding the return to normal economics.

Community imageIn partnership with the Plunkett Foundation, and Community Shares Scotland, Co-operative Development Scotland ran their second Community Business: Making it Easy event this month providing key insight to the realities of establishing a community business and information about the support available.

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Key advice for setting up a community business

Earlier this year Co-operative Development Scotland were part of a group that organised and hosted an event called Community Shops & Pubs: Making it Easy. The event was designed to enable communities take action to secure the future of their local shop or pub by helping them to better understand what projects of this nature entail and the support that is available to them. This was a fantastic event was well attended by community groups from across Scotland who were able to access advice on fundraising, governance and community engagement. Attendees also had the opportunity to speak to those already running community businesses and to learn from their experience.

On the day we caught upGillian Kirton with some of the speakers from the event to find out what key bits of advice they would give to community groups considering setting up their own community business.

Gillian Kirton, project manager for Co-operative Development Scotland was there on the day and shares some of the key insights.

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Co-ops Fortnight 2020

Portrait of Darah Zahran, Social Economy Manager at Scottish Enterprise. Taken 22-03-19

Over the next two weeks we join our partners in celebrating Co-ops Fortnight. COVID-19 has left us facing extreme challenges for both public health and our economy, but positive lessons are being learned during this crisis, and we all want to harness this new culture of co-operation to change society for the better. Looking at this year’s theme of #KeepCooperating we caught up with Darah Zahran, team leader at Co-operative Development Scotland to get her take on why co-operatives will play a key part in our economic future.

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Introduction to community co-operatives

Suzanne OrchardAs our thoughts turn to what our economy will look like post COVID-19, there are calls not to return to business as usual. There is an opportunity to create a fairer and more democratic alternative to what we’ve had in the past and community wealth building and co-operative business models will play a key role in that.

In our latest blog, we catch up with Suzanne Orchard, our specialist advisor for co-operatives to find out more about community co-operatives and why communities in Scotland are turning to this model to both safeguard vital local assets but also to generate economic benefit for the areas they live in.

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A Message From Co-operative Development Scotland

As we feel the unprecedented effects of COVID-19, the team at Co-operative Development Scotland want to offer our support in this incredibly difficult time to our clients.

The changes we have seen to every aspect of our lives at the moment may be overwhelming, but we would like to do what we can to help you with the immediate challenges your business or co-operative may be facing by signposting to the network of support available from the government and key partners. Links and details about support available are listed below.

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