Press release

UK co-operative sector: surge in membership and robust financial performance revealed

  • Record number of people are members of the UK’s co-operatives – 17.5 million, an increase of 2.3 million in the past five years
  • Sector’s 7,000 independent co-operative businesses now worth £34.1bn a year 
  • Retail and agriculture leading the charge
  • Co-operatives account for 223,000 jobs across the UK
  • Sector set to benefit further from recent Co-op announcement to add one million new members over the next five years

A report released today (7 June) by Co-operatives UK shows that the co-operative sector is now owned by a record 17.5 million members - equivalent to a third of the entire UK adult population.

If you are proud to be a part of a co-op click here

The upsurge - an increase of 2.3 million people or 14.3% over the last five years – stems from the rise in the number of people joining high street retailers and credit unions and increase in the number of new community-owned organisations across the country.

The annual state of the sector report, The UK co-operative economy 2016, also finds that the co-operative sector has 6,798 independent co-operative businesses, working in everything from farming to film. Despite a slight dip on the previous year, the sector as a whole turned over £34.1 billion last year, with the co-operative sector proving extremely resilient over the last five years, amidst uncertain wider economic conditions.

A recent announcement from the Co-op, the UK’s largest consumer co-operative, is set to stimulate the sector further in the coming years. Last week the Co-op announced plans to return £100 million to its members and their communities a year by 2018, as well as recruiting a further one million members into the sector. More widely, the rest of the sector has seen sustained prosperity accounting for a £3.5 billion or 10% increase in turnover during the last five years. 

"Co-operative business groups have long been a part of Britain’s rich commercial history, encouraging diversity and promoting responsible capitalism. From credit unions to community cafes, they create jobs, provide important services and add £34 billion to the British economy. 

"I was born in Rochdale, where the ideals of co-operative governance were first crafted, so the role of business in the community has always been an issue close to my heart. When people take a stake in businesses that matter to them, we see greater engagement, increased productivity and more innovation. Co-operatives should be incredibly proud of the work they do across the country."

Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Business

The two strongest sections of the co-operative sector are retail and agriculture. Co-operative retailers, including the two largest co-ops, the Co-op and John Lewis, account for £24.3 billion of the sector’s turnover, and the UK’s 600 farmer owned co-ops, such as Arla Foods and United Oilseeds, £5.8 billion.

The report also provides employment figures for the co-operative sector for the first time, showing that the sector now supports 223,000 UK jobs across the UK.

Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Co-operatives UK, said: "As the UK economy picks up, we need to ensure what develops is an economy that works for everyone. The co-operative sector, which is giving people a say over their work, shops and local areas is looking strong for the future and points the way.

"The last five years have been tough for the economy as a whole, yet we have seen strong performance from the co-operative sector. Despite deeply competitive markets the sector as a whole has remained stable and co-operatives trading in retail and agriculture have grown by 10% over the last five years.

"Alongside this solid commercial performance, there has been a surge in the number of people who own and control the UK’s co-operatives. With 17.5 million members owning everything from high street retailers to credit unions, the co-operative sector is the largest open membership organisation in the UK."

Read the co-operative economy report and access the open data here.