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Today we’ve heard the Chancellor Phillip Hammond continue the current debate over the best way to run the UK economy. Free markets or State control? At lunchtime he told the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester that “a new generation were being tempted down a dangerous path.”

Mr. Hammond’s remarks follow those from Jeremy Corbyn at the Labour Party conference in Brighton last week when talked of the “crisis of legitimacy” facing capitalism and argued that more state control was needed. A day later Theresa May was at the Bank of England telling us that: “A free market economy, operating under the right rules and regulations, is the greatest agent of collective human progress ever created.”

Their rival outlooks sparked a media debate on radio and TV that continued through the weekend with Sunday’s newspapers full of pundits discussing the future of capitalism.

The missing idea

But something’s missing from all this economic discussion of what works best for Britain.

There’s another way of owning and running commercial endeavour that creates wealth, maintains strong accountability and that around the world has lifted individuals and whole communities out of poverty.

It’s called ‘co-operation’ and it’s a way of economic control and ownership that Britain has every right to be proud of. In the 19th century, thanks to the Rochdale Pioneers, it was an idea that became one of our nation’s greatest exports.

Co-op success

In Britain and around the world co-ops really matter.

According to the latest report from Co-ops UK, there are nearly 7,000 co-ops in Britain employing more than 226,000 people and with a combined turnover of nearly £36bn. That’s not marginal or fringe. That’s a sizable ‘Co-op Economy’ and it’s continuing to grow.

Our own Co-op food stores and funeral homes are the biggest indicator of the Co-op Economy in this country but co-ops are also providing taxi drivers in London, affordable homes in Leeds, social care in rural wales, and even bouncers in Newcastle.

And look at the Co-op stats at a global level from the International Co-operative Alliance.

The number of co-ops throughout the world is approaching 3 million and they have more than a billion members. And the world’s top 300 Co-ops (which includes the Co-op Group) have a combined turnover of $2.5 trillion and cover retail, insurance, agriculture, utilities, financial services and health care.

Widening the debate

Strange then that co-ops aren’t getting much of a look-in in the current debate about politics and economics.

It’s up to all of us in the co-op movement to help our politicians understand what co-ops are achieving every day of the week all around the world, and how individuals, families and communities are benefiting.

Two weeks ago I explained how our 4.5m Co-op Group members (our owners) had benefitted from £35m that we’d returned to them and their communities during the first half of the year. We achieved that through well run businesses competing in the market place but without putting profit before people.

Personally, I believe the state does have a critical role to play in society and I also think well-regulated markets have proved their worth.

But co-ops can, and do, provide a unique way to generate value and build communities. So let’s not forget that there’s more than two ways of doing business.

Steve Murrells
Co-op Group CEO

Join the conversation! 8 Comments

  1. And there is more —- what about co-ownership and similar models? The most well-known to the public is the John Lewis Partnership but there are many more, and many varieties in this and other countries (eg.Germany)

  2. Thank you Steve, whilst frustrating that tens of thousands of co-operators have been saying this for 200 plus years, I have to be realistic that when a leader of a Co-operative Business speaks the media listen, your presentation on BBC Breakfast was excellent. The Co-operative Party, Co-operatives UK and others are informing politicians, and the recent announcement by Labour shows we are making inroads. But your voice helps enormously, thank you.

  3. Lets also not forget a third way of running public services. Imagine how powerful a co-operative model would be in running the railways or utilities for example.

  4. Absolutely excellent comments Mr Murrells, Co-ops have so much positiveness about them and are such an essential requirement of a just and progressive society. It is up to all of us that support this way of transforming society for the betterment of people and planet to support our co-operatives, both locally and internationally. Working together, we can achieve all that we want in life.

  5. That’s more like it ! Well done Steve for speaking up. Now let’s sustain that message and put some more effort into Principle 5 ! Keep it up

  6. Well stated Steve. The Co-operative model of business can offer huge opportunities to young people in today’s challenging world.


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