2015 felt like the year when the UK’s co-operative sector got firmly back on its feet. Together we successfully lobbied government on vital policy changes, generated mass media coverage during Co-operatives Fortnight, pioneered the Fair Tax Mark, introduced a best practice standard for community share issues, secured a £1 million fund to support business development - and so much more.
This year, 2016, will build on these successes and focus on strengthening the foundations of a robust and growing co-operative sector which can give people of all kinds more ownership and control of our economy. There will be three priorities.
1. Promoting co-ops
A strong co-operative sector needs a policy framework that allows co-operatives to compete on a level playing field with other businesses. For 2016 we will be focusing on building the case for transferring government responsibility for all co-ops, currently scattered across departments, to just one, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
With elections in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, we will be working closely with co-ops and partners in devolved nations to make the case for a more co-operative economy, monitoring the parties’ manifestos in the run up to the elections and working to engage with the new governments after May.
Our policy work will be supported by campaigns that bring together co-operatives across the UK to create a positive profile for the sector. Co-operatives Fortnight, from 18 June to 2 July, will focus on encouraging co‑operatives to run a ‘Big Co-op Clean’ and asking members of the public to ‘choose co-operative. We will be helping to spread a global marketing campaign for co-ops, while research on co-operative innovation and performance will provide a platform to promote the benefits of sharing ownership through co-operatives.
2. Developing co-ops
This year we’ll be working with co-operatives of all kinds to develop a long-term strategy to start, strengthen and grow the UK’s co-operatives – a national development strategy created with and by co-operative organisations, from retail giants right through to working men's clubs, wholefood collectives and sports clubs.
The first element is a £1 million three-year partnership with The Co-operative Bank to provide business support for co-ops through comprehensive online resources, one-to-one support, peer mentoring and training, which will be available in late February.
And core to all this will be continuing to provide our members with leadership and expert advice on governing high performing co-operatives – supporting best practice in constitutional governance, helping co-operatives make the most of their people though quality HR, supporting innovation in member engagement and pioneering community shares.
3. Uniting co-operatives
As the network for co-operatives, 2016 will again see us bringing together people from co-operatives of all shapes and sizes. With major events like the Co-operative Retail Conference in March, Co-operative Congress in June and the Practitioners Forum in November, as well as more than 40 workshops and training events, there are opportunities to connect, share and learn with co-ops right across the UK.
And our focus will be on bringing into membership of Co-operatives UK those co-ops that need the support. Farmer-owned co-operatives – which are involved in everything from grain and livestock to joint purchasing – will be a particular area of focus for 2016 as we develop a package of services to help give them a national voice and specialist business support.
On these three priorities we can achieve more together than we can alone. As co-operatives our members know that better than anyone. 2016 will be a year of working together to grow the co-operative economy by promoting, developing and uniting the UK’s co-operative businesses.
I look forward to working with you on this vital mission.