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The Advantages of Co-operation

There is increasing evidence across a range of disciplines that people are co-operative as much as they are also competitive. Over recent years, policy and politicians have neglected this truth.

Britain has therefore lost out by missing some of the advantages of co-operation: opportunities for innovation, business success and social responsibility that have not been taken. There is a spectrum of co-operation. It is not that every business should be a co-operative or mutual. But every business can share the benefit of co-operation if they work more co-operatively.

One benefit of co-operation is an engaged workforce. We know that the UK has a very high degree of workers – 23% – that are not engaged in their workplace and that this comes at a cost. Drawing on a methodology developed for the USA, we estimate the minimum annual economic cost of this failure for the UK at around £36bn.

Co-operatives give more opportunity for their employees, their customers, their stakeholders to engage in the running of the business because they control the capital of the business, and they have an equal say in how it is used.

Other advantages of co-operatives include:

  • Allowing communities and groups to take responsibility for their own needs. Villages can make a success of shops threatened with closure, football supporters can own their own clubs and communities can re-open pubs that are closed if they work together as co-operatives. Advantages are created by allowing groups with a common interest or aspiration to work together.
  • Trusted values and principles. Every co-operative benefits from our commitment to international Co-operative Values and Principles, the blueprint for a successful co-operative that has existed for over 150 years. Our commitment to ethics, community and governance mean that co-operatives are trusted to provide sensitive services to vulnerable people, such as funeral care.
  • Creating value for business and members. Co-operatives create value for their members. When co-operation is the priority, it enables provision for the best possible services for members and allows the advantages of co-operation to shine through.

There is a growing consensus on the factors that serve business excellence – a clear mission, better services and products, giving consumers power, nicer places to work, engaged staff, less social and environmental harm. There is good practice on some or other of these elements in plenty of workplaces, but taken together, they are what many would describe as the advantages of co-operation.