New research reports on co-operatives

I wasn’t able to get to the international Co-op Summit in Québec this year, but I have been following what’s been happening over there over the past few days with interest. Usefully, the Summit organisers (the financial co-operative Desjardins) have commissioned a number of studies and reports which have been launched during the event.  One of these is the latest edition of the co-operative equivalent of the Fortune 500 list, the World Co-operative Monitor which is becoming a very valuable annual publication.

My eye has also been drawn to the research findings on public perceptions of co-ops and a study on the effect of the new financial regulatory regime on financial co-ops.  The studies are all helpfully together on one web site,

Unlevel playing fields (and other cliches)

I have complained before both here and in my journalistic writings of the disparity between the costs of running a business registered under the Companies Act and one registered under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act.

I’ve received this morning the invoice for the annual cost of keeping a community benefit society registered: it’s £60.  And the cost of completing the annual return for a similar sized company?  £13.

Saving the past, to learn for the future

You’ll know, if you are a regular visitor to my blog, of my involvement in a project which is aiming to ensure that primary material from the upsurge of interest in workers’ coops in Britain in the 1970s-1990s is saved and preserved.  I was at a meeting today in Manchester of the informal committee which is seeking to ensure that this initiative (what we calling Working Together: recording and preserving the heritage of the workers’ co-operative movement) gets the resources it needs to get going.

We worked up a detailed grant application for the project which was submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund this summer, and we have now heard back from HLF.  They say that they had applications for three times the money they had available for distribution – and disappointingly we have been one of the unlucky ones.

However, all is definitely not lost.  HLF accept resubmissions, and we are now going to talk to them again about how we can strengthen our bid and maximise our chance of success.  We hope a revised application can be submitted before Christmas.  I’ll keep you posted.

The Co-operative Group and its employees

In an ideal world, co-operative businesses would be able to acquire the business products and services they needed from other co-operatives.

Sadly, the world is not ideal. The Co-operative Group obtains the “workforce management software solutions” it needs from US based private equity company Kronos, so that employees’ timekeeping, sickness and attendance records and much else are chewed through and processed by Kronos’s algorithms. Obviously the Co-op Group needs effective tools to handle its HR but I wonder whether a US giant which promotes itself as helping firms among other things ‘control labour costs’ and ‘improve workplace productivity’ is quite what’s needed to encourage staff to identify with the co-operative way of doing business. The Group is working hard to rebuild its membership. It also needs to ensure it has a committed workforce.

Fair tax in Manchester

A nice email arrives from Debbie Clarke at Manchester’s workers’ co-operative store Unicorn Grocery, letting me know that Unicorn has just been awarded the Fair Tax mark. Debbie goes on, “we’re not particularly concerned about receiving coverage or accolades for getting accredited as we feel it should be pretty standard business practice, but as it isn’t we are keen to do what we can to promote the mark and make it more visible nationally. It also feels like a really good opportunity to talk about co-operative values and principles and how they are being put into practice.”

Well done to Unicorn, an excellent example of successful worker co-operation.

John Lewis, (almost) the inside story

I mentioned a few weeks back the new study of the employee-owned John Lewis Partnership, A Better Way of Doing Business?, which has been published recently.  The book is written by two Open University academics Graeme Salaman and John Storey, and it’s a fascinating read. I’d recommend it to anyone who has an interest in alternative business models (including co-operatives), and in the implications that these models can have on management, business strategy, accountability, corporate governance and employment practices.

I’ve written a review for Co-operative News which I imagine will be in their next print edition. In the meantime, CN has posted the review online.  You’ll find it here.

Branding and re-branding

Ramifications continue over the Co-operative Group’s decision to re-re-brand, away from the ‘national’ The Co-operative brand they had previously effectively spearheaded. I understand that Co-operative Group members will shortly get replacement turquoise cards for the standard yellow honeycomb cards which have been issued up to now.  Which is fine, but could create no end of confusion if Group members are also members of independent regional societies which themselves issue honeycomb cards. Letters are now going out to people in this situation, trying to explain what’s happening. Poor old regionals.

Is there anything positive in all this?  Just possibly, if it means that the regional societies are able to reaffirm their own independence from the Group as autonomous member-owned co-ops, something which was very difficult under the previous combined brand.