More co-operative members than shareholders

I helped to launch our new statistical review, the Co-operative Economy 2011, nice and early on Radio 4, the Today programme as part of Co-operatives Fortnight.

With over twelve million members, it emerges that more people own shares, or their equivalent, in co-operatives than there are direct shareholders in the stock market.

I know that more have an indirect stake through private pensions, but it remains a stark reminder of how poor the current economy is at spreading ownership (only 12% of households hold any conventional form of business asset, according to research quoted recently by Adam Schoenborn of Res Publica).

ps the figures on individual direct shareholders, at around 9 million in the UK, comes from an international survey by the University of Bath. If anyone has more data, to test or firm this up, or on ownership more widely, please do share it!

Mary Portas

Just come away from a wonderful talk by Mary Portas here at Co-operative Congress. She wowed everyone with passion and plain speaking – “I think and I hope that co-operatives are the future.”


Which? Accolade

It is wonderful that Co-operative Energy, a new enterprise in a tough market, has today been given a Consumer Action Award by Which?

Co-operative Energy supplies electricity and gas to homes throughout England, Wales and Scotland. Its stance is to be consistently competitive on price. It has just one tariff – called Pioneer. There are no tie-ins or exit penalties of the kind that have bedevilled the big energy companies. Customers are invited to become members and in that capacity they receive a share of profits and have a voice in our direction.

Sounds good and it is!

So here’s my advice – switching, for once, is quick and easy, just 5 or 10 minutes online or over the phone – and they do all the work.

Observer co-ops

It was great to see co-operatives featuring prominently in the Observer Ethical Awards this week (which have become known as the “green Oscars” by some), with three co-operatives winning their categories and one finishing runner up in a category which was won by a co-operative both this year and last.

The diversity of the co-operatives nominated showcases the enormous scope of the co-operative model – from a volunteer-run, community bicycle project that repairs, reuses and relocates unwanted bicycles in Bristol to the largest consumer co-operative in the world.

They share a common goal: as businesses owned and run by their members, co-operatives give people an equal say and share of the profits, whilst acting together to build a better world. They are an obvious fit for ethical awards.

‘Business sponsored by Jupiter Asset Management’


The Co-operative Group

The Co-operative Group is a member-owned and UK-based family of businesses operating primarily in the food retail, financial services, travel, pharmacy and funeralcare sectors.

Local Retailer


The People’s Supermarket

Recently featured on a Channel 4 documentary, the People’s Supermarket in Holborn, London, aims to be a sustainable food cooperative providing healthy food at reasonable prices.


Unicorn Wholefood Co-operative Grocery

Unicorn is a co-operative grocery based in South Manchester. Owned and run by the workforce, the grocery donates 5% of its wage bill to local and international projects.

Grassroots sponsored by Timberland


The Bristol Bike Project ~

A volunteer-run, community bicycle project that repairs, reuses and relocates unwanted bicycles within underprivileged and marginalised groups in our city.

River, blue and red

I met Maurice

20110613-123549.jpg Glasman this afternoon. With a background in community organising and a wealth of ideas on politics, economics and citizenship, wnergetic and enthusiastic, he is leading work on the idea of ‘blue red’ thinking.

We started by swapping stories. One that jumped out for me, as a South Londoner, was that he was brought up in North London, schooled in Camden but only saw the river Thames for th first time at the age of eighteen. We talked, long, fast and in depth on the co-operative tradition by the Thames at his new posting at the House of Lords.

Inflation as a white knight?

The co-operative think tank in Spain, the Ekai Centre, is pointing to a new report from the Boston Consulting Group, which argues that inflation could be a better way to cut government debts than current austerity measures. The core argument is that fiscal retrenchment leaves the economy growing at a slower pace than the debts themselves, in which case the alternative ought to be fiscal stimulus and inflation, re-stoking the economy and eroding the value of the debt.

The third and more likely scenario to my mind says that we may end up with a mixture of the two – an official line of fiscal discipline, tough on inflation, but a reality, with loose monetary policy, that is the opposite.

Traditional inflation tends to be socially regressive, so are there better options? Can we see models of quantitative easing that are socially and environmentally more progressive than pumping liquidity through banks, to their advantage along the way? Quantitative easing through co-operative and mutual institutions, perhaps – which have a 20% share of the European banking market – or an ethical screening of banks that have access to the programme.

Debt is a scorecard that tells you over time who owes what to who. We are not all in this in together when it comes to the reckoning and it is high time to challenge how the burden of national debt is shared out.

Reg Bailey Review

The Guardian carries a report on the findings of the forthcoming review on the sexualisation of children by Reg Bailey, chief executive of the Mothers’ Union. This sounds like a creative and welcome set of proposals and marks quite a fundamental change from a debate dominated by the denials and hand wringing of the marketing industry of past years after the publication of Consumer Kids.

That tone of that debate matters, because although it is the response of Government rather than the proposals of the review that will define what now happens, this is an issue for us all. To find a way through that is good for children and their development, with early sexuality and gender roles so imprinted in the cultural environment in which they grow up, is a complex and multifaceted challenge. The point, at heart, is for children to value themselves more for who they are rather than how they are seen.

This can only be addressed through a common sense of purpose – a social policy that is not just about Government but about all involved in young people’s lives taking their share of responsibility.