The UK co-operative economy 2015: an ownership agenda for Britain

"In the last few decades, the diversity of forms of business organisation has diminished and we need to reverse that trend.”  John Kay, Financial Times

Ownership matters

Ownership gives people control over things that matter to them. Without it, they have less of a stake in society and in the economy. The effect on business is detrimental, slowing down key determinants of economic success, like productivity, innovation and entrepreneurialism.

Concerns about ownership are echoed by the British public, who feel they have no control – in their workplaces, over big business, or over the economy as a whole.

Co-operative ownership

Co-operatives offer a solution. On the outside they might look like any other business; it’s what goes on inside, because of the way they are owned, that makes the difference.

From high street retailers to farmer controlled businesses, credit unions to community pubs, co-operatives are mutual businesses that are owned and run together by their members, whether those members are the employees, the customers, local residents or suppliers.

They operate in the interests of the members, who have an equal say in how the business is run and decide how its profits are used. They give people control over things that matter to them and help them pull together.

The secret of success is… sharing it.

The co-operative advantage

By giving the people involved in a business – employees, customers, residents, suppliers – a stake in it, co-operation has a triple effect.

  • Sharing ownership boosts productivity. The potential boost from co-operation to the UK economy of higher employee engagement alone is estimated to be at least £59.4bn.
  • Sharing ownership harnesses innovation. Innovation accounts for 70% of long-term economic growth in the UK. The most common sources of innovation are employees and customers.
  • Sharing ownership drives entrepreneurship. Data on growth businesses shows that entrepreneurs are motivated to build businesses and ‘create change through co-operative relationships’, rather than acting as lone entrepreneurs

"Innovation trends are encouraging more economic collaboration. This is co-operating in order to compete.” - Ed Mayo, editor, The Co-operative Advantage: Innovation, co-operation and why sharing business ownership is good for Britain

The UK co-operative economy 2015 

The UK co-operative sector is diverse. Thousands of independent businesses work across the economy, from sports to social care. They range from micro enterprises and community organisations to famous brands and big businesses. What they share is that they are owned and run together by their members.

Contributing to the economy

Media reports over the last 18 months have pointed, superficially, to challenges in the co-operative sector. Whilst concerns at the Co-operative Group may have stolen the headlines, the sector as a whole has been performing well. Growth at customer and employee owned retailers like Midcounties Co-operative and the John Lewis Partnership have led to an overall growth of the co-operative sector’s turnover over the last five years.

Increasing business ownership

Co-operatives give people control over the businesses that affect them. Since 2010, more and more people have become members of co-operatives, whether customers owning the large retailers they use, fans owning their football clubs or local people owning nearby shops and pubs.

Boosting entrepreneurship

Co-operative are bubbling up everywhere, from local residents starting up community owned energy projects, to young people forming co-ops in the creative industries, residents saving their much loved local pub and employees buying their workplace. There are, now, nearly 7,000 independent co-operative businesses in the UK.

“Most entrepreneurs are not motivated just by money and those who are motivated for collaborative ends, to make a difference, tend to be more successful.” Rebecca Harding, The Collaborative Entrepreneur

Business resilience: co-operatives and the rest

Starting a business is risky. Only four in ten new businesses in the UK survive their first five years, according to the Office of National Statistics latest analysis. Co-operatives buck this trend, however, with eight out of ten co-operatives created in the last five years still going strong. A combination of sharing risks, harnessing the ideas of many and the stake members have, means co-operatives demonstrate significant business resilience.

Co-operatives across the country

Co-operatives are everywhere, from Ipswich to Inverness, with co-operatives performing well in each of the UK nations. Like many models for innovation, clusters of co-operatives form when the idea, and the success, of shared ownership spreads. There are co-operative hotspots in cities like Brighton and Bristol, and rural areas like Cornwall and the Highlands.

Star performers

Co-operatives work across the economy. Three sectors in particular are performing well, seeing significant growth. The second largest part of the co-operative sector, farmer co-operatives has grown by almost a third, whilst co-operatives operating in health and social care have grown by half again. The biggest area of growth is in energy, an increase powered by the combination of a flourishing renewable energy co-operative sector and the start-up of Co-operative Energy in 2010, which now supplies 213,000 customers.

Co-operatives across the economy

The co-operative sector has always been strong in retail and agriculture, where a small number of businesses generate a significant amount of turnover. Yet co-operatives operate across the economy, from sports to social care. Whilst 2014 saw the strength of co-operative banking drop, it was balanced by the success of credit unions at a local level as well as growth in sectors from energy to education.

The UK Co-operative 100, 2015

Each year, Co-operatives UK publishes the top 100 co-operative businesses in the UK. It is largely dominated by businesses in two sectors, retail and agriculture. Consumer owned retail co-operatives account for 11 of the top 100 and have a £14.9 billion turnover. the other significant retailer is the employee owned John Lewis Partnership, which has for the first time become the largest single co-operative in the country, following The Co-operative Group's recapitalisation of the business through the sale of 80% of the Co-operative Bank. Half of the top 100 are agricultural co-operatives, showing the large role they play in the co-o-operative economy.

Position Organisation Name Number of Members Turnover
1 John Lewis Partnership PLC 93,800 £10,942,600,000
2 Co-operative Group Limited 8,400,000 £10,813,725,000
3 The Midcounties Co-operative Limited 504,000 £1,209,693,000
4 Central England Co-operative Limited 1,410,608 £956,522,000
5 United Merchants Public Limited Company 0 £939,594,217
6 Openfield Group Limited 3,893 £709,820,000
7 National Merchant Buying Society Limited 761 £684,303,000
8 First Milk Limited 1,317 £610,500,000
9 Fane Valley Co-operative Society Limited 1,974 £533,935,000
10 Arla Milk Link Limited 1,562 £454,263,000
11 United Dairy Farmers Limited 1,721 £443,155,000
12 Scottish Midland Co-operative Society Limited 260,977 £436,442,000
13 Mole Valley Farmers Limited - £407,793,000
14 East of England Co-operative Society Limited 276,879 £388,097,238
15 The Southern Co-operative 151,000 £350,505,000
16 Lincolnshire Co-operative Limited 231,435 £285,892,000
17 Anglia Farmers Limited 2,919 £241,988,883
18 Berry Garden Growers Limited 59 £212,851,452
19 Scott Bader Company Limited - £198,688,000
20 The Channel Islands Co-operative Society Limited 120,969 £187,829,000
21 Atlasfram Group Limited 1,126 £184,536,378
22 United Oilseeds Marketing Limited 0 £180,390,065
23 GrainCo Limited - £165,587,658
24 Tullis Russell Group 738 £158,585,000
25 ANM Group Limited   £149,866,000
26 Housing Finance Corporation Limited 7 £143,960,000
27 Greenwich Leisure Limited 1,165 £133,169,694
28 Agricultural Central Trading Limited 4,168 £116,114,659
29 Woldmarsh Producers Limited 793 £113,484,182
30 United Oilseed Producers Limited - £110,093,731
31 Chelmsford Star Co-operative Society Limited 76,298 £104,509,438
32 United Farmers Limited 21 £100,123,470
33 Heart of England Co-operative Society 255,342 £94,551,000
34 International Exhibition Co-operative Wine Society Limited 0 £90,473,000
35 Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative Limited - £88,710,000
36 Brandsby Agricultural Trading Association Limited 4,234 £78,399,633
37 Ballyrashane Co-operative Agricultural and Dairy Society (1990) Limited 222 £77,847,305
38 G's Growers Ltd. - £74,340,000
39 Scottish Woodlands - £73,875,000
40 Scotlean Pigs Limited 89 £68,068,951
41 Tarff Valley Limited 1,019 £64,011,648
42 Yorkshire Farmers Livestock Marketing Limited 267 £59,378,937
43 Telford Co-operative Multi Academy Trust - £59,011,000
44 Grand Union Housing Group Limited 8 £56,871,000
45 Farm Fresh PO Limited 8 £55,751,242
46 Long Clawson Dairy Limited 126 £54,860,000
47 Rochdale Boroughwide Housing 2,957 £53,177,000
48 Clynderwen and Cardiganshire Farmers Limited 6,304 £50,003,984
49 RCT Homes Limited 5,449 £46,435,000
50 Speciality Produce Limited 13 £45,828,686
51 Freedom Leisure 5 £41,141,575
52 Greenfields Community Housing Limited 5,463 £39,406,525
53 Aquascot - £38,557,000
54 Suma Wholefoods 130 £37,997,355
55 Bron Afon Community Housing Limited 1,876 £36,769,000
56 Radstock Co-operative Society Limited 7,013 £36,127,912
57 Phoenix Community Housing Association (Bellingham and Downham) Limited 2,620 £32,659,000
58 South Caernarvon Creameries Limited 111 £31,683,778
59 Surrey County Cricket Club Limited 8,290 £30,665,481
60 Watford Community Housing Trust 2,724 £28,818,000
61 HF Holidays Limited 34,118 £27,959,000
62 B A K O (Western) Limited 1,438 £27,162,493
63 Cornwall Farmers Limited 4,028 £26,262,179
64 South Armagh Farming Enterprises Limited 30,003 £25,933,692
65 Owner-Drivers Radio Taxi Service Limited 1,316 £24,844,000
66 Carmarthen and Pumsaint Farmers Limited 8,749 £23,880,980
67 Community Gateway Association Limited 3,899 £23,433,848
68 Tamworth Co-operative Society Limited 18,238 £23,269,000
69 North Country Primestock Limited 411 £21,656,246
70 Local Care Direct Limited 328 £20,957,855
71 London Bakers Buying Association Limited 540 £20,676,096
72 Infinity Foods Co-operative Limited 87 £20,495,385
73 Society of Growers of Topfruit Limited 18 £20,186,593
74 Aspatria Farmers Limited 803 £20,127,651
75 Bedfordshire Growers Limited 37 £19,968,293
76 Argyll Community Housing Association Limited 290 £19,269,000
77 Lancashire County Cricket Club Limited 5,880 £19,148,419
78 Dulas Ltd 87 £18,678,770
79 Best Western Hotels - £18,657,000
80 Hay and Brecon Farmers Limited 1,122 £18,298,187
81 North East Grains Limited 82 £18,149,906
82 Dengie Crops Ltd. - £18,096,779
83 Anglia Home Furnishings Holdings Ltd 175 £17,959,000
84 East of Scotland Farmers Limited 330 £17,795,683
85 Weald Granary Limited 190 £16,787,387
86 South West Lancashire Farmers Limited 581 £15,930,821
87 Camgrain Stores Limited 473 £15,792,525
88 St Clere's Co-operative Academy Trust - £15,260,000
89 Galloway And Macleod - £15,228,000
90 Kent Wool Growers Limited 3,788 £15,144,969
91 The Green Pea Company Limited 230 £14,930,714
92 Coastal Grains Marketing Limited 99 £14,369,154
93 Watmos Community Homes 13 £13,960,000
94 Salford Community Leisure Limited 384 £13,684,075
95 Furness and South Cumberland Supply Association Limited 843 £13,677,493
96 Littleton and Badsey Growers Ltd - £13,467,275
97 Essential Trading Co-operative Limited 76 £13,388,445
98 Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club Limited 7,288 £12,253,585
99 Hampshire Grain Limited 104 £12,169,415
100 Torridge Vale Limited 17 £11,970,034

Explore the data now

Following extensive work on data over recent years, we are releasing this on an open data platform and welcome the engagement of members and partners in the development of our knowledge base on the co‑operative sector.

You can explore the data with our online data explorer or download the open data on Open Data Commons licence.