Scotland’s £2.5 billion co-operative sector believes it is set for a period of growth after a new poll showed an increasing public desire for a fairer way of organising the economy.
In its annual state of the sector report, The UK co-operative economy 2017, Co-operatives UK identifies 6,815 independent co-operatives across the UK, from high street retailers and farmer-owned businesses to community sports clubs, tech companies and web developers.
Scotland has 560 co-ops with 1.3 million members, turning over close to £2.5 billion.
This includes large enterprises, such as retailers Scotmid and John Lewis’s Scottish stores, to established businesses like the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-Op. It also embraces community groups such as the Portpatrick Harbour Trust.
New polling data by YouGov, carried out for Co-operatives UK, shows people want a greater influence over the economy, with two-thirds thinking they have no control, and three quarters saying the same for their workplace.
James Kelly MSP, convener of the cross-party group on co-operatives at Holyrood, said: “This poll reflects a far greater interest in the co-operative economy as communities and individuals see the value of collaboration in uncertain times. There is also an increasing sense of fairer ways of doing things to the benefit of the wider community.”
In Portpatrick, near Stranraer, residents contributed between £25 and £10,000 to raise the £100,000 needed to take control of the harbour.
Mr Kelly added: “At the last meeting of the cross-party group, MSPs from all parties were delighted to meet representatives from co-ops across Scotland and hear their fantastic stories. There is genuine cross-party support for co-ops in Scotland and excitement at the potential of the sector.”
Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Co-operatives UK, said: “Underlying the political shocks the country has experienced over the last year is a call from many parts of the UK population for an economy over which they have more of a say and from which they get a fair share.
“Co-ops give people a say in what they do and how their profits are used. They offer a practical way to reimagine an economy in which people have more control over their homes, work and local areas.
“It’s no surprise we’re seeing a spike in interest in co-ops, and it was clear when I attended the launch of the Cross-Party Group that there is huge interest in growing the co-operative economy in Scotland.”
Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative
In 1977, a handful of bicycle enthusiasts got together to start a worker co-operative in Edinburgh. They didn’t have any grand plans, but loved cycling, wanted to help others get out on bikes, and to work on their own terms.
Today, the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative employs more than 100 people in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Newcastle and Leeds, from bicycle mechanics to marketers, and warehouse staff to web developers. All staff are invited after one year to become fully-fledged co-op members, giving them an equal share in the business, a vote at the AGM, and an equal share of any profits.
Since the mountain-biking boom era of the late 90s and early 2000s, when bicycles flew off the shelves, the climate has been more challenging. But the co-op continues to fight for its corner of the market, focusing more recently on streamlining the business and protecting the jobs of its members.
Simon Atkins, digital marketer: “My favourite thing about working for the Bike Co-op is you know everyone’s in it together.”
Portpatrick harbour Trust
Owned by an investment company in the Channel Islands, Portpatrick’s harbour was falling into disrepair. When the opportunity to buy it arose, residents formed a co-operative.
They ran a short campaign to raise the capital – and had an overwhelming response. Around 360 local people invested between £25 and £10,000 to raise the £100,000 needed to take ownership of this vital community asset in 2016.
Chairman Calum Currie, said: “The harbour lies at the heart of the village. It is as important to Portpatrick as the village green is to other communities. This isn’t just about the bricks and mortar of the harbour wall, but the fabric of the local economy.
“The Royal Yachting Association predicts a 50 per cent increase in the Scottish sailing sector in the next decade. This is the wave we want Portpatrick to catch. We need to build the facilities modern boats and crews need – laundry, stocking up, toilets and showers.
“These, allied with our superb geographical advantages and a wonderful village, can make Portpatrick a place with a great reputation and a bright future.”
Other successful co-ops in Scotland include:
● Aquascot, which provides fish and seafood to Waitrose;
● Edinburgh-based Central Taxis, which has over 1300 drivers;
● West Highland Free Press, an employee-owned newspaper based on Skye;
● Page/Park Architects, an employee-owned architects’ practice based in Glasgow