We need to bottle this spirit of co-operation to ‘build back better’ - Rose Marley

We have all seen great examples of cooperation over the last year – from community organisations working together to deliver food and medicines to the isolated and vulnerable, to groups creating virtual communities to address lockdown loneliness.

Rose Marley is CEO of Co-operatives UK

But how do we bottle this spirit of co-operation and embed it in our economy, so we can make 'build back better' really mean something?

Co-operatives UK is the voice of those who have made this collaborative way of working their business. This ranges from large organisations like the Co-operative Group and Scotmid to great examples of smaller-scale co-operative working in Scotland, like Edinburgh Bicycle Co-op, Green City Wholefoods in Glasgow, community shops like the Crunchy Carrot in Dunbar and other small co-operative enterprises.

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There are 564 co-ops in Scotland, turning over more than £1.5 billion annually. Yet this is not proportionate to the rest of the UK, where there are 7000-plus co-ops employing 240,000-plus people with a combined annual turnover in excess of £38 billion.

So, despite a strong track record of co-operative working and social enterprise in Scotland, we are not seeing the amount of new co-ops setting up as we would like - or expect.

We have a window of opportunity to change this, for a fairer, more equitable future.

By tapping into the positive collaboration we all saw during the pandemic, we have a genuine chance to hardwire co-operative ways of working into our economy. This is not just a 'nice to do' policy, it makes business sense; only 42% of all start-up businesses are still operating after five years. For co-ops, this rises to 76%.

At the last meeting of the Scottish Parliament's Cross Party Group on Co-operatives before the Holyrood election, I was delighted at the understanding of the opportunity for co-operative approaches to make a positive economic difference.

There was agreement that this cannot just be founded on warm words, but on real projects making a real difference in real communities.

That's why Co-operatives UK has outlined four very specific areas of action that we want to see all parties include in their manifestos for the Scottish Parliament elections.

These are: A Co-op Entrepreneurs' Scheme to help enterprising young Scots build livelihoods and enrich communities by creating worker co-ops; A Co-op Job Recovery Scheme to create co-ops when businesses and jobs are threatened by sale, relocation, restructuring or closure; A Co-op and Community Housing Programme, to develop more co-operative options for affordable, secure and green housing, drawing on successes like West Whitlawburn Housing Co-op in South Lanarkshire, and Edinburgh Student Housing Co-op; A Scottish Community Finance Booster, to deliver match investments as part of a ‘blended’ finance approach, when co-op members raise equity through community shares to save or create local assets, such as community-owned visitor centre, the Loch Ness Hub.

These are not just pipedreams, but practical programmes for real communities. There is political support to do this, and a desire for change. Let’s not throw away the positive collaboration we have seen in a time of crisis; let’s work more cooperatively to improve lives and livelihoods across Scotland.

We have to act now - so let's seize this window of opportunity!

Rose Marley is CEO of Co-operatives UK: www.uk.coop.


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