Boom time for co-ops with members at record high

The co-op sector includes Edinburgh-based Scotmid. Picture: Contributed
The co-op sector includes Edinburgh-based Scotmid. Picture: Contributed
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The UK’s co-operative sector – which includes the likes of Scotmid and the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-op retail chain north of the Border – is enjoying booming growth, according to a report published today.

A record 17.5 million people are now members of co-operatives – up 2.3 million in the past five years – and the 7,000 co-operative businesses in operation are now worth an estimated £34 billion a year to the economy, the report from Co-operatives UK says.

The figures come despite the high-profile difficulties faced by the 172-year-old Co-op Group, which came close to collapse three years ago when a £1.5bn black hole was discovered at its banking business.

Today’s report said it hoped the recently announced re-launch plans by the Co-op, which will see the return of £100 million a year to members and communities along with a target of recruiting a million new members, will help stimulate further growth in the wider co-operative sector. The study found that the two strongest parts of the co-operative sector are retail and agriculture.

Retailers, including the Co-op and John Lewis, account for £24.3bn of the sector’s turnover. The UK’s 600 farmer owned co-ops, such as Arla Foods and United Oilseeds, contribute £5.8 bn.

The report also provides employment figures for the co-operative sector for the first time, showing that the sector now supports 223,000 UK jobs across the UK.

Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK, said: “The last five years have been tough for the economy as a whole, yet we have seen strong performance from the co-operative sector.

“Despite deeply competitive markets the sector as a whole has remained stable and co-operatives trading in retail and agriculture have grown by 10 per cent over the last five years. As the UK economy picks up, we need to ensure what develops is an economy that works for everyone.

“The co-operative sector, which is giving people a say over their work, shops and local areas is looking strong for the future and points the way.”

The report highlights a number of new Scottish co-operatives including the GlenWyvis distillery in Dingwall, which aims to be the world’s first community-owned craft whisky distillery. More than £500,000 was raised in the first weeks of the fundraising campaign for the distillery which aims to reach a target of £1.5m.