Employee ownership is economy’s hidden gem

Arup, engineers of the Orbit structure at the Olympic Park, are employee-owned. Picture: Getty
Arup, engineers of the Orbit structure at the Olympic Park, are employee-owned. Picture: Getty
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IN THE United States, 4 July is a special day. We hope it will also become an important date in the calendar here with the launch today of the UK’s first ever Employee Ownership Day.

Today will see a string of high-profile events in London and in Scotland, with many employee-owned companies opening their doors so that people can discover for themselves the benefits of this innovative business model.

And that’s why we at Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS) will be hosting an event at Fitwise Management in Bathgate, where no fewer than ten firms will be exploring the benefits of employee ownership – where workers have a real stake in their own future.

So what does an employee-owned company look like and what will today’s attendees learn? Well, it’s one where employees hold the majority of shares either directly or through an employee benefit trust. This means workers get a greater say in their future direction of travel.

That’s why all the evidence shows that employee-owned firms are more productive, better at creating jobs and more capable of delivering growth and innovation. It’s also a business model that helps keep firms sustained in their communities, and thus more likely to be headquartered here.

Employee ownership is a proven winner across different sectors, with John Lewis being probably the best-known example. Here in Scotland, paper and board manufacturers Tullis Russell contributes a turnover in excess of £100 million. Other examples include fabric manufacturers WL Gore and consulting engineers Arup.

This business model is a powerful driver of economic growth. Over the past 15 years, shares in employee-owned businesses have considerably outperformed those in the FTSE All-Share Index.

As a subsidiary of Scottish Enterprise we want our economy to grow, so that’s why we want more businesses in Scotland to appreciate the benefits of this dynamic business model. We welcome the backing of Cabinet secretary John Swinney and his recognition of the positive difference employee ownership can make.

We hope today will give us the chance to shine further light on employee ownership – something of a hidden gem, but one capable of firing the Scottish economy forward.

• Sarah Deas is chief executive of Co-operative Development Scotland