Co-operative Enterprise in Birmingham

CREDIT – blog taken from Birmingham and Solihull Social Economy Consortium, written by Alun Severn – original post can be found here.

Co-operatives — which are owned and controlled by their members — represent a particular sub-set within the broader social economy. Co-operatives operate in all  sectors of the economy but the co-op model is especially suited to any kind of mutual, membership-based enterprise where shared services or shared ownership offer important ways to ensure greater fairness and a better deal for members, employees and users alike.

The national membership body for the sector Co-operatives UK, has just published excellent data for the sector in 2018, which shows that the co-op sector in the UK is alive and well, with 7,226 independent co-operative enterprises, and a combined turnover of £36.1 billion –- up more than £800m on 2017 levels. The sector is also a significant employer, with almost 235,000 people earning their livelihoods directly through co-operatives.

This should be welcome news to anyone who feels a commitment to co-operative values.

In Birmingham there are around 90 co-ops, most of which are fairly small. But this shouldn’t be taken as meaning that the number of co-operators in Birmingham is small — nothing could be further from the truth. Because co-operative enterprise in Birmingham includes three of the giant retail co-operative societies — Central England Co-operativeMidcounties Co-operative, and the Co-operative Group. While the the Co-operative Group is nationally the largest co-operative society, most of Central England Co-operative’s stores, members and workers are in Birmingham.

Birmingham also has the large Citysave Credit Union . Credit unions are essentially saving co-ops and a number of important Birmingham employers — including Birmingham City Council, the NHS, Aston University, Birmingham Settlement and Legal & General — trust Citysave to provide safe and protected savings and ethical, fair priced loans for their employees.

In total, there are over 49,000 co-op members in Birmingham and the city’s co-ops have a combined turnover of over £23m, and manage members’ funds worth almost £50m.

Co-operative success stories include renewable energy (Community Energy BirminghamPower For Good, and Chase Community Solar); the growth of co-operative housing in both Redditch and Wales; and local worker co-ops such as LOAF and Birmingham Bike Foundry. Recent months have also seen The Phone Co-op, the only ethical and mutually owned telecoms provider, cement its twenty year growth by merging with Midcounties Co-operative.

Co-ops in the city are supporting the Birmingham Social Enterprise City initiative and we want to ensure that the co-op sector of the social economy has a better profile and is more widely understood as we move forward with Social Enterprise City plans. To this end we’ll be bringing you more co-op news, so stay tuned.

Find out more about co-operatives

If you want to find out more about what co-operatives are doing in 2018 take a look at Co-operatives UK, the national representative body for co-operative enterprise, Co-operatives West Midlands, the co-op representative body for the region, or The Hive website and online forum for co-operators.

Birmingham UK. Freelance research, evaluation and policy consultant specialising in social enterprise and the third sector. I maintain the BSSEC blog and website