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The UK is beginning to co-operate again

Ed Mayo addresses the 2011 Co-operative Congress

We’re just back from Co-operative Congress 2011, our annual event to celebrate ‘The Power of Co-operation’, and what a fantastic event it has been – an ideal way to kick-start the second Co-operatives Fortnight.

From 25 June to 9 July 2011, the fortnight will show how co-operative businesses share their profits, give people an equal say and help build a better world.

With an audience of over 400 people, Professor John Arnold presented The UK Co-operative Economy Report 2011 – which shows that the co-operative sector has significantly outperformed the wider UK economy since the credit crunch.

Our report shows that the combined turnover of all UK co-operatives grew by 4.4% last year to £33bn, and has grown by 21% since the start of the credit crunch in 2008.

In addition, it reveals that membership of co-operatives has also seen a dramatic increase, rising 18% since 2008 to 12.8m people. This equates to one in five people in the UK now being members of a co-operative.

The biggest percentage growth in turnover was seen amongst organisations owned by their employees such as John Lewis and Suma Wholefoods, with 8.7% growth to £9.4bn. The largest sector remains consumer-owned co-operatives which amounts to £16.1bn with growth of 6.5%. This includes The Co-operative Group, whose £14bn revenue includes food, financial services, pharmacy and funeral services.

The resilience of the co-operative economy holds lessons that could help the UK economy avoid repeating the problems of recent years.

The evidence we have is of remarkably stable growth across a wide array of co-operative businesses. The values of shared ownership, shared wealth and democratic control appear to provide resilience in the face of economic adversities. Our co-operative economy is in good health – still further proof, to both the public and private sectors, of exactly how economic success can be pursued alongside social responsibility.

Elsewhere, the report said the number of co-operatives in the UK had grown by 15.1%, rising from 4,820 in 2008 to 5,450 in 2010. And with the UK government predicting that one in six public sector employees could be working in new mutual enterprises delivering public services by 2015, the potential for further growth in co-operative businesses is great.

The UK is beginning to co-operate once again. Co-operative businesses can help to redress the unbalanced and over-stretched economy.

Mutual ownership beats shareholder democracy. Co-operatives are harder to start but harder to kill. If you want something that lasts 100 years make it a mutual.

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