Today sees the publication of a 60-point action programme to revitalise Britain’s £9 billion family of Co-operative businesses.

The report by the Co-operative Commission, which was established with the support of the Prime Minister, argues that by strengthening its existing business base, the co-operative Movement can lay the foundation for a major expansion of its unique, socially-responsible way of working into new businesses and social enterprises.

Members of the 12-strong Commission, which included leading figures from business, the trade unions and the Labour Party as well as from the Co-operative Movement itself, have spent 11 months preparing their report, which is titled The Co-operative Advantage. TUC General Secretary John Monks chaired the Commission and Alan Donnelly was Secretary.

The report concludes that co-operatives’ unique structures, in which ownership rests with the members, usually consumers, give them a strong potential advantage over conventional businesses. It argues that, by making the most of this advantage and the linked social goals, co-operative businesses can achieve commercial success. In turn that will help to strengthen their social goals, thus creating a virtuous circle.

At a Downing Street presentation for Co-op leaders last night the Prime Minister welcomed the vision laid out in the report of a strong Co-operative Movement at the heart of social and business life in the UK. He said: “The values that made the Co-op great in the last century are now the key to its future prosperity. It is important to the development of a strong social economy that the Co-operative Movement continues to prosper in the new century. I believe this serious study by the Commission will help chart the route forward.”

The report acknowledges signs of a Co-op resurgence in food retailing, particularly following the merger between the two largest businesses, CWS and CRS, now known as the Co-operative Group. Its focus on community retailing through a growing chain of convenience stores and supermarkets had led to like for like sales this Christmas rising by 5.5 per cent.

Nevertheless the Commissioners recognised that the Co-operative Movement had lost market share in recent years and that its greatest weakness was the widespread image of the Co-op as an old-fashioned retail store.

The report sets out a range of proposals for boosting current business practices.

These include:

Setting a minimum performance target of 10 per cent on capital employed (Rec. 2)

Setting a minimum dividend level of 10 per cent of profits to be distributed as individual and community dividend (Rec 11)

A recognition of a skills gap on elected lay boards, which should be remedied by the appointment of independent, external non-executive directors (Rec 31)

Co-operative societies should develop new common national branding and consider the future of the ‘clover leaf’ logo (Rec 17 & 18).

A call for moves to secure the Movement’s assets for future co-operators (Rec 29).

The Commission called on the Government to introduce a modernising bill, recognising in law for the first time the unique Co-operative form of ownership. (Rec 51)

Moves into new areas to be led by a New Ventures Working Group (Rec 20)

The broader principles of the Co-operative and Labour Movements to be promoted through a new foundation which would fund community programmes which supported those aims (Rec 41).

The sort of new ventures envisaged in the report include community based care for the young and the elderly; and financial services for those whose needs are not being met by the commercial sector.

Commission Chair John Monks said: “There are many areas in the business and social fields that are crying out for co-operative solutions. Today’s co-operative movement has many strengths. Its ethos can tap into the public’s disillusionment with corporate greed and lack of ethical standards displayed by parts of the private sector, but the structures and the ways in which co-operative principles are implemented need to be brought up to date in order to deliver those values in today’s fiercely competitive world.”

Commission Secretary Alan Donnelly said: “Our report’s recommendations are based on the consultation exercise undertaken by the Commission over the past year. Throughout the review I have met and spoken with dedicated people working within the Co-operative Movement. I have little doubt that they have the commitment and the imagination to transform the Movement and make a real impact on national life.”

The Commission’s report will now be presented to co-operators at a series of meetings across the U.K. before being put to the Co-operative Congress at its annual meeting in Birmingham at the end of May.

Enquiries: Phil Wilson / Kathy Sutton
0207 404 5959

You can view the Report at the Co-op Commission website:

Notes to Editors:

History of The Co-op
The Co-op has served Britain for over 150 years. It was founded to provide the highest quality goods and services within a framework of social responsibility. In 1844, under the rules of the Friendly Societies Act, the Co-operative Society was formed by a group of 28 Rochdale working men who set up a retail Co-operative society to sell decent food at reasonable prices to families living in harsh conditions. A share of the profit of this society (“the divi”) was returned to purchasers in proportion to their purchases. Having grown to around 1400 societies by the turn of the century, the movement has faced increasing competition over the last 30 years which has necessitated a rationalisation in the number of co-operatives.

Definition – “A Co-operative”
A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise.

Today, the UK consumer Co-operative Movement is made up of 47 retail co-operative societies mostly formed through amalgamation and merger of different regional societies over the years. Sixteen of these societies now conduct over 92% of the movement’s trade. The UK Co-operative retail sector is one of the most widely recognised convenience grocery stores throughout the UK, with an annual turnover of over £8 billion. Over the 150 years of its existence, the Co-operative Movement has been able to establish significant co-operatives in many other economic sectors in Britain; in worker relations, agriculture, housing, credit unions, financial services, travel, opticians and funeral services. The Co-operative societies have expanded their provision of services to the community, and created some highly successful commercial organisations. Within the Co-operative Movement, the Co-operative Group is the largest of the consumer co-operative.

Values and Principles
Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality and solidarity. The members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.
As such, they are guided by 7 principles:
Voluntary and open membership
Democratic member control
Member economic participation
Autonomy and Independence
Education, Training and Information
Co-operation among Co-operatives
Concern for community

The 47 retail Co-operative Societies employ 105,000 staff and manage 4,643 shops, including 44 superstores, and held a 6.0% share of total food sales at the end of 1999.

The Co-operative Group*, the largest of the consumer co-operatives, employs over 50,000 staff and has 1,126 food shops, consisting mainly of market town supermarkets and convenience stores. It is the UK’s largest independent travel retailer with 312 Travelcare branches and has 575 funeral branches, conducting 80,000 funerals per year. It manages 85,000 acres of land and delivers milk to more than one million doorstep customers.

The Co-operative Bank, which employs 4,000 staff, handles 2 million customer accounts via 140 outlets and includes the considerably successful Internet bank, ‘smile’.

The Co-operative Insurance Society (CIS) insures a total of £3.2 million families and employs 10,741 staff.

Within the UK Co-operative Movement, there are 516 co-operative travel branches total; 800 co-operative funeral branches, conducting 1 in 4 of all funerals; the co-operative Shoefayre chain has 366 branches; co-operative opticians make up 69 practices and there are 532 co-operative chemists, including 274 branches of National Co-operative Chemists. Worker co-operatives in the UK are 1,500 in number.

International Movement
The Co-operative Movement is significant in terms of worldwide membership and impact on the global economy. The most recent figures from the United Nations estimated that the livelihoods of nearly three billion people, or half of the world’s population, are made secure by co-operative enterprises. Nearly 800 million individuals are members of co-operatives, which provide an estimated 100 million jobs worldwide. Co-operatives can be found on all continents and in all sectors of the economy, including agriculture, financial services, fisheries, food retailing, forestry, healthcare and housing. Euro Co-op has 16 members. There are national organisations of consumer and producer co-operatives in 12 European Union member states and in 4 central and eastern European countries.
Co-op America was founded in 1982 and has nearly 50,000 individual and 2,000 business members.

Report availability
A full copy of the Co-operative Commission report, “The Co-operative Advantage”, will be available on the Co-op website, , from 12pm, Thursday 8th February 2001.

*On 14 January 2001 the Co-operative Wholesale Society became known as
“Co-operative Group (CWS) Ltd” – the Co-operative Group for short. The name change reflects better its wide range of business interests – from food retailing to financial services, farms and funerals. The name change does not affect the continuing use of the co-operative logo or any of the brand names under which the Co-op trades.