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.
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