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With the party political conference season underway, we’re drawing attention to the significance of social enterprise in the UK economy and the much greater role it could play in the country’s future.

Along with the Nationwide Building Society and Social Enterprise UK, we’ve uncovered the true contribution that businesses with a social purpose are making to today’s economy.

Social enterprise generates £60bn

The Hidden Revolution report uses new methodology to estimate the value of social enterprise. Businesses like our Co-op, Nationwide and 100,000 smaller organisations, are generating £60bn into the UK economy – which is 150% more than previously thought. Together, we employ 2 million workers. That’s the same as all of the creative industries in the UK combined. We’re going to use the new research to lobby for changes in government policy that will encourage further growth of the sector.

Politicians from all the main parties have recognised that we need to make profound reforms to the way we run the economy. Theresa May has called for a more “responsible capitalism”. Jeremy Corbyn has said he wants to replace the current “failed model of capitalism”. Sir Vince Cable has said that capitalism needs a “makeover”.

It’s clear that the public wants change too. Polling commissioned by the Legatum Institute last year found that the top three words associated with capitalism by the public are “greedy, corrupt and selfish”.

But it’s not as if there’s a shortage of good practice that we can turn to for a better way of doing business.

The Co-operative approach

Our Co-op has always been run for the benefit of our millions of members and that’s why we can plough our profits back into local communities up and down the country. And at a time when there’s global concern about the transparency of big business, our ownership model has democratic accountability built-in to it. The UK would benefit greatly from more businesses that are run for a social purpose and where long-term sustainable decision making is the norm.

In the new report we’re calling for some simple government initiatives around regulation and releasing ‘seed money’ that could help to kick-start an expansion of the co-op/mutual sector and encourage more people-focused decision making in business. We’d also like to see business schools and university economics departments introduce social enterprise thinking into their curriculums to encourage a different understanding of commercial success.

I think there’s an even broader point to make too when it comes to the power of co-operation and I hope the two main Party leaders will take this on board in their conference speeches.

I’m thinking of how we run our communities and our schools; how we approach a post-Brexit economy for the UK; how we make trade relationships fair at home and abroad; and how we tackle climate change globally. We must adopt co-operative ways of working to solve the challenges we face in ways that achieve a common good. I want our Co-op to model how this can be done so that others are inspired by what co-operation can achieve.

We’re proving that an ethically driven approach to business, which puts people and planet first, can create commercial success.  It’s true for us and it can be true for the country as a whole.

Steve Murrells
CEO, The Co-op

Your can read my other blog posts here

Join the conversation! 9 Comments

  1. As an ex-English teacher who struggled for two years in a free-school, I see an urgent need for greater teacher involvement in school management. The structure of academies and free schools often means that those in control – members and trustees – have almost no experience of education to inform their decisions!

    In the light of Rayner’s comments at the Labour Conference on co-operative schools, we must begin a public debate about how co-op schools should be structured and how they might help fix the chaos left by Gove’s Academies Bill.


  2. Hi Scottie, if you’re looking for assistance, the best places are to tweet us, Facebook Message us or call us. https://coop.uk/2P1j8w4 ^Jordan

  3. Thanks, Jane ^Jordan

  4. As a Social Enterprise whom your staff and customers have publicly encouraged to approach the CO OP , I have to say you have ignored my every communication. Saying is one thing …. doing is another ?

  5. Well yes. Duh!

    But the Co-op doesn’t work very hard at encouraging Co-operativism.

    We don’t even have an identifying scheme to say “Supplied by a Co-op” on the products we sell.

    Why not invest in that Steve?

    Or in education to help young people run new Co-ops.

    • Hi Phil, I’m not sure it’s fair to say we don’t encourage co-operativism. We co-operative with UK co-ops, work with co-ops internationally, we’re the largest corporate sponsor of academy schools in the UK and we teach co-operatively and about co-operativism in these schools. What’s more, our Co-op branded products are not only sold in our stores, not only in the stores of other co-operatives, but also NISA and Costcutter stores too – extending the reach of our Co-op. ^Jordan

      • Your missing it Phill … supporting academy schools is not what your customers want … take a look at what I am doing … something that is pulling customers away from eBay and Amazon in one small Niche simply because of the perceived social value . I have sent a full blown global strategy to you but received no reply . I believe the co op can be that big but you need a different approach .. ps not pitching for a job … been at the top of the biggest .. never again .

  6. It is the new beguing for cooperation politicians of all coulours have now woken up to economic realities cooperation between cooperators is addressing some of societys problems however the govt. have to stimulate the economy leaving the european union will bring even more demands on cooperatives to step in where the govt. have left it all to the conventional market. best wishes philip watson

  7. Refreshing and realistic


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