The report "Promoting cooperatives and the Social Economy in Greece - How to promote the social economy in Greece through social cooperatives, worker cooperatives, and cooperatives of artisans and of SMEs" was undertaken by CICOPA at International Labour Irganisation (ILO) request.
One of the keystone documents for the co-operative sector last year is ‘Cooperative Growth in the 21st Century’, which the International Co-operative Alliance commissioned from CICOPA, our sectoral organisation for industrial and service co-operatives. It was presented at the Global Conference in Cape Town, South Africa last November and is available online in English, French and Spanish at
Seven co-operative thinkers from around the world contributed to this thought leadership piece, probing how co-operatives should think about growth, a highly-contested notion of late among economists and environmentalists. ‘Cooperative Growth’ approaches this timely topic from differing perspectives, and raises helpful observations about scale, market share of competing business models, sustainability and community values.
This document was intentionally commissioned as the foundational implementation piece in the sustainability strand of the Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade, along with a scan of co-operative sustainability, which is available at the same link. In 2014, the Alliance will use the findings from the scan and the reflections in the thought leadership piece to shape a course for sustainability strategies to 2020.
Concurrently, the Alliance is seeking feedback on draft Guidance Notes that were drafted last year as the first three in a series of Notes intended to interpret and ensure the contemporary relevance of the Co-operative Principles. One of these in particular is pertinent to this blog, as it addresses Principle 7, Concern for Community, where sustainability is most clearly covered. I encourage you to review these Notes and provide your feedback, at
Together, these documents signal the intentional, multi-year approach the Alliance is taking to address intractable issues of relevance to co-operatives around the world. We’ve been delighted at the responsiveness of the global co-operative community to this work and welcome your engagement!
Changes with the Co-operative Bank could prove to be an incentive for the movement, according to co-operators at an open conference in Manchester to discuss the implications of the challenges faced by the Bank.
As part of the Ways Forward for the Co-operative Movement event speakers analysed existing financial co-operatives, looking at a new strategy for banking and insurance within the movement.
The conference, organised by the Co-operative Business Consultants, agreed on the need to redefine what democracy means and what mechanisms were needed to empower members. Referring to the Co-operative Bank’s crisis, Vivian Woodell, chief executive of the Phone Co-op, said members should take this opportunity to strengthen the Group, rather than feel defeated.
“There are lessons to learn from the wider co-op movement. The problem is not that we have too much democracy, but that the democratic structure wasn’t working,” he said.
He argued that the Group should consider turning its regions into independent societies, adding that evidence proved regional independent societies were more successful.
“Members should have higher expectations of how the business is managed. We all share responsibility and we need to accept this,” he said, encouraging members to speak up about the problems within the Bank and the Group. “You become complicit if you keep your head down”, he said.
Peter Couchman, chief executive of Plunkett Foundation, which supports the growth of village co-operatives, also participated in the event. He said there was a danger of focusing on what went wrong rather than on what were the lessons to take from that. Citing the organisation's founder, Horace Plunkett, he warned about the menace of big co-ops becoming soulless corporations.
He said that individual wrong doings were not the only problem within the movement, but rather the culture that enabled that. He called for a federation of aggressive co-operators, arguing that “co-operators are far too nice to each other.”
Members need to challenge each other more to increase accountability, thinks Mr Couchman. “The fundamental aspect of democracy is that it exists to meet the needs of the members and we have lost the mechanisms to do that,” he said.
Contesting the decision to take over Britania in 2010, John Mann, Labour MP and member of the treasury select committee that is currently investigating the Co-operative Bank, said members should have had a greater say in the process.
“Whatever model is enhanced if it does not enable members to have a say when important decisions are taken than that democracy is worthless, the concept is worthless.”
Mr Mann also expressed concerns over that fact that hedge funds might not be interested in co-operative values. He said: “The Co-op Bank went wrong because it bought the Britannia, who had a wrong business model.”
He believes the solution to the crisis is developing a “forward looking, simple business model” while “tearing up the democracy at the top and reform it in a way that is actually rational”.
Frances Coppola, former banker turned financial writer also questioned the acquisition of Britania, saying the Co-op Bank’s ambition to get bigger and challenge the big banks was what brought it in this situation.
“In a co-op model, the moment you start diluting your capital you are on the path of losing control of your organisation, you need to think very carefully whether the co-op should be growing. You want to be keeping your co-operative small enough so that members exercise control, but not too small because very small co-operatives are risky,” she said.
Corporate social responsibility practices and standards have shifted and developed over the decades. External pressures, notably pressure from consumers and campaigners, or changes in the economy, are often the main drivers, though pioneering businesses can create new standards too.
Increasing public focus on the environmental impacts of oil companies in the 1980s and 90s pressured some into developing CSR programmes and public reporting, and the Co-operative Bank’s pioneering ethical policy in 1992 set a new standard for the UK finance industry.
But what is in store for the next few years? We asked our CSR experts what trends they can see emerging.
Jon Lloyd says that some businesses are realising the power of supporting small enterprise in creating jobs for local communities: “I’m starting to see more working with businesses either in the supply chain or in local communities. It’s not seen as traditional philanthropy, but the aim of this support is to deliver public benefit. A good example is the Co‑operative Group’s Enterprise Hub.”
He also thinks we will see more businesses thinking creatively about how to deliver public benefit through core business activities. He advises business to think about how they can “actually deliver benefit, not through donations, but through delivering products and services that have a direct social impact, either through engaging organisations which wouldn’t ordinarily be able to do business, or directly through products or services. This becomes a challenge – is it business as usual, or is it community?”
Jon’s reading of the future is borne out by a number of examples of co-operative initiatives.
Lincolnshire Co-operative offers locally sourced produced through its ‘Love Local’ range, and says that it makes an effort to use local suppliers and contractors wherever possible. This policy seems to have brought benefits to the co-operative: in 2012 the volume of own prepared local meat increased by 16.3% as customers were reassured by the local sourcing scheme and sales of the Love Local range also moved forward by 12.4%.
Lincolnshire has taken its commitment to the local economy a step further by analysing its economic contribution to the area in which it trades. It discovered that in one financial year it used 480 different local businesses and spent £30m with them. The co-operative stated: “We believe spending money with such firms is a sound investment in the communities we trade in.”
Other co-operatives run local sourcing schemes too. In November 2013, East of England Co-operative won the Dairy Crest Rural Action Award from BITC for its local sourcing work. The co-op now has 129 local suppliers and is increasing the number of local products it stocks from 50 to 2,000. Anglia Co-operative has instead focused on supporting the social enterprise economy in its local region, through housing the regional support body Social Enterprise East of England and supporting social enterprise bursaries.
Andy Melia takes a different view of how this local trend will manifest. “The local element is probably one of the biggest trends. How do you ensure that you are working in a strategic way but applying what you do to local circumstances?
“A key part of this is looking at how – especially as a retail organisation with stores in lots of different communities – you empower local stores to work with local communities.”
He says you can do this by providing leadership and structure across the organisation and cites Sainsbury’s and M&S as examples: “They have a really good framework – part of the performance requirements of local store managers is how they are working with local communities. In M&S they have Plan A Champions in store and part of their role is work with the store manager to engage employees and local community.”
Other trends to watch out for
For Philip Monaghan from Infrangilis, it will be about moving away from traditional charitable model of donations. "There is a trend toward loans as opposed to grant or gifts to motivate change. But a better trend would be grant or gifts that require self-sustaining outcomes as opposed to philanthropic patronage."
David Pritchett believes we will see much more alignment between trading purpose and the focus of community investment. He says that financial services, partly as a response to the banking crises, have already gone down this route. "Big banks in the last three to five years have very much focused on a set of topics with regard to community investment whereas before may have done many different things on different levels. They now talk about small business growth and employment, maybe with a link to a diversity agenda, education, financial literacy or inclusion. Before they used to do lots about the arts, health or environment, but these are losing a bit of traction."
Professor Stephanie Barrientos, speaking specifically about cocoa farmers in Africa, is seeing more general support of smallholders. "A million tonne cocoa shortage is forecast by 2020. You can’t just leave that as it is, you’ve really got to invest. Co-operatives like Kuapa Kokoo in Ghana are playing a critical role. Organising smallholders is key, and there’s growing recognition of that."
Lorraine Bell, director of corporate social responsibility consultancy Simply CSR, sees a growing trend in practical support, rather than financial support. "I see more pro-bono and in-kind work than donations these days – team building challenges are popular to support a project rather than donation of cash to pay for services to carry out the same job and have a business benefit in terms of staff motivation and skills."Find out more in the Community Impact Index: www.thenews.coop/impact
Essential Trading is a worker-owned food co-operative, based in the south west of England. Set up to provide organic, Fairtrade food at reasonable prices, it is committed to supporting independent local businesses, as well as promoting co-operative and community principles.
One of the ways it does this is by encouraging and supporting the set up and running of buying groups around the country. It actively seeks trading relationships with other co-operatives, sourcing own-brand products from co-ops around the world and trading with co-operatives within the UK.
It also uses smaller service co-operatives, and has recently taken out a loan with Co-operative and Community Finance. Essential supports other communities and co-operatives such as Zaytoun by offering them warehousing. “We’ll pick up ethical products which support communities and give them a route to market that they need,” says Eli Sarre, marketing manager at Essential Trading.
Within its local area, Essential accepts a local currency, known as the Bristol pound. Ms Sarre says: “We’re quite a heavyweight company in Bristol and also sell to smaller retail shops or cafés, so by accepting Bristol pounds, it means everyone we sell to in Bristol can pay us in Bristol pounds as well.
“That keeps the money in the local community, rather than going off to tax havens and that sort of thing. It stays within the community.” The Bristol pound accounts for around 5% of the company’s local turnover.www.thenews.coop/impact
This section of the impact index is based on interviews with experts in the community investment and CSR field. With examples of good practice and thoughts on main trends for the future, it will be useful for organisations and individuals with established practice in community investment. The latter section includes tips on getting started and warnings about some common mistakes to avoid.
To complement the case studies of good practice in smaller co-operatives which can be found through this index, we asked CSR and community investment experts to highlight examples – either of ways of working, or specific business examples – from both the largest UK co-operatives and retailers.
Andy Melia, community investment manager at Business in the Community (BITC), put forward Midcounties Co-operative as an example of a business connected to local needs: “They do some amazing work locally – that is a key aspect of their approach. They do a combination of projects which work across the organisation, but at the same time are good at understanding local needs.”
He highlighted the charity partnership between Boots and Macmillan Cancer Care as another example. He says that rather than using the conventional one or two year charity partnership model, Boots has worked at a high level, and over a sustained period of time, to maximise benefits for both sides.
“An increasing number of people will be affected by cancer over the next 10 plus years, and Boots has been working with them to maximise who Macmillan can reach. There are a number of levels to their partnership – fundraising, awareness, dedicated support and training for staff.
“It’s quite a long term partnership too – it’s been going on for about four years now.” The depth and variety of the partnership is a result of high level commitment on both sides: “It was something that was developed for 18 months with both boards sitting down to explore what they could do. They spent time working out how they could make a difference.”
David Pritchett, head of Europe at AccountAbility, felt that good practice was in the improvements made in measuring impact: “Companies are measuring these things more professionally now, for instance through London Benchmarking Group. Something which, five or six years ago, they wouldn’t dare to do it as they wouldn’t feel confident in the veracity of the data.
“It’s quite daring as it’s quite emotional, sensitive data they are putting out so they have to be sure that this information is accurate.” He also gave some advice for the wider co-operative sector: “Co-operatives might look to copy this kind of model in a similar sector and see if they can replicate – it’s easier if someone else has already done the ground work.”
Jon Lloyd, Assistant Director and Head of London Benchmarking Group at Corporate Citizenship, highlighted the greater focus that some organisations are developing: “The main change has been about developing a focus and goals – educating however many thousand people, or improving health or education – and making sure that people have a framework in which they can operate.
“Increasingly companies are getting better at reporting on one thing: what is the one thing you’d like to be famous for?”Find out more in the Community Impact Index: www.thenews.coop/impact
For co-ops that wish to invest in their community, there is plenty of best practice advice. And as Andy Melia, community investment manager at Business in the Community (BITC) explains, being a responsible community member is not just the right thing to do, it also makes business sense.
BITC was formed following the Brixton riots in 1982, amid growing realisation that social issues were directly affecting the high street. “Social issues impact on how you function as a business,” says Mr Melia. “By ignoring what’s going on in the community you’re missing out on the chance to engage your customers.”
The key, he says, is to approach community investment the same way as your core business. Define the desired long-term sustainable change, monitor and measure progress and constantly developing and improve.
“Core to this is knowing where you can make the biggest difference,” he explains. “Lots of issues affect different communities in different ways. The key is to find out which are most pressing.
“To do that, you need to get out and talk to people. Then prioritise the issues by thinking about business risks and which of those are affected by social issues. That’s how you develop a win-win approach.”
Measuring and reporting progress needs attention not just among co-operatives, but across the board. “Co-operatives are not alone in being very good at doing stuff and not being very good at talking about it,” Mr Melia says. “It’s about a business being able to explain the difference it’s making, which is different to saying what activities you’ve done.
“As with the initial research into your area of focus, it will involve a combination of numbers and words. There will be some analysis of statistics, but it also requires an understanding of the issues and offering case studies – presenting the human face of the change that you are making.”
BITC manages the CommunityMark, the UK’s national standard of leadership and excellence in community investment, which looks at all aspects of a business, and which has been adopted by over 40 businesses including Nationwide Building Society and Midcounties Co-operative.
Other co-ops are demonstrating their community activity with a more focused approach, including East of England Co-operative, which last year won the Dairy Crest Rural Action Award for its Sourced Locally initiative.
Mr Melia says: “The local element is probably one of the biggest trends in community investment. A key part of this is looking at how, especially as retail organisation with stores in lots of different communities, you empower local stores to work with local communities. Empower them by providing leadership and structure across the organisation.”
Another approach to connecting to localities is the BITC Business Connect programme, which sends senior people into local areas for between six months and two years, to learn to understand their needs.
There are already best practice examples of co-ops supporting communities. “Midcounties do some amazing work locally,” Mr Melia says. “They do a combination of projects which work across the organisation, and they understand local needs.”
A community investment project in Oxfordshire, for example, began with Midcounties learning about high rates of poor dental health among the area’s young people. The co-op worked with Oxfordshire Primary Care Trust to enable more youngsters to access dental services, while providing clear information on Midcounties’ dental products and the importance of healthy food.
“A key part was volunteering,” Mr Melia says. “Staff turnover dropped significantly for those who volunteered.”
“It’s about understanding whether you’re making the difference you want to make,” he adds. “Build it into systems you already have. Can you build it in to the staff survey? Are you checking whether staff are feeling more engaged at end of volunteering opportunity? Build it into appraisal systems. Make it part of your everyday business, rather than just that fluffy thing you do.”Find out more in the Community Impact Index: www.thenews.coop/impact
Unicorn is a wholefood grocery and worker co-operative in Manchester with a strong focus on organic, regional and fairly traded produce.
The co-operative buys preferentially from other co-operatives where it can and has a lot of co-operative suppliers, from the big wholesalers like Suma and Essential to small enterprises like the Handmade Bakery, Moss Brook Growers and Glebelands City Growers.
Unicorn also offers advice and support to start-up co-ops. In 2011 it published the ‘Grow a Grocery’ guide, which sets out its business model and is freely available for anyone to use. Those who want more detailed information can visit Unicorn and work with the co-operative in person.
Unicorn’s members also share their knowledge and experiences with existing co-operatives. They participate in the national co-operative movement, with members sitting on the boards of the Co-operatives UK Worker Co-op Council, regional body Co-operatives North West and specialist finance provider Co-operative and Community Finance.
In addition, last year the co-operative gave away about 13% of its pre-tax profits to local and international projects. It allocates funds as a percentage of its wage bill rather than its profits. Debbie Clarke of Unicorn says: “It seems a clearer and more transparent way of measuring what we give. It also better reflects our growth as a business and means if and when the staff get better off, so do the projects we support.”www.thenews.coop/impact
By Cat Johnson, Neal Gorenflo & Mira Luna
In 2013, Shareable switched gears. While we're best known for our online magazine, we have a long history of convening the sharing community. And in 2013, we ramped up our on the ground, community organizing work significantly.
To kickstart that work, we gave seed grants to 13 grassroots sharing projects in early 2013. The goal for our seed grant program was to help start, support or amplify the work that sharing projects are doing to make positive change in their communities. And also learn from the experience.
Happy New Year!
We hope that the start to 2014 brings with it new energy and positive growth, both personally and professionally, to everyone in our Bananacado network.
This first 2014 edition of the newsletter is filled to the brim with tools to jump start the authentic fairtrade conversation: perfect timing for those with resolutions to eat better and make the world a better place. Marvel at the 2013 Impact Infographic, or watch a new animated short about banana history, or plan to attend the Banana Conference in Boston in March. But pass on what you learn to colleagues, friends, and customers. We’re putting our best foot forward this year- not just leaning on past success, but gearing up for what lies ahead. We’re counting on you to help raise the debate over our food system in 2014.
But first, an update on fairtrade certified pricing in 2014…
New Fairtrade Minimum Pricing Established for 2014
If you are unfamiliar with how fairtrade certification works, the most basic rule is that in order to be considered certified, grower and buyer must agree to purchase product at or above the minimum price established by the certification agency being used. For example, our own Equal Exchange Bananas are certified fairtrade by the Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO), which is an international body tasked with determining what the minimum, or “fair,” price should be. This is why the FLO seal appears on each bunch of Equal Exchange bananas sold.
As of January 1st, the average minimum price across all the producing countries for bananas increased $0.60 per 40 lb. box (under FLO). This is hugely positive for farmers within the system: not only will they get more for their labor, they will be at less of a disadvantage when negotiating contracts with buyers looking to suppress price increases – something that fairtrade was designed to combat.
Bananas: A new documentary called, “Banana Land: Blood, Bullets and Poison,” by filmmaker Jason Glaser, tells the sordid story of plantation grown bananas. It is a story many already know and very well may be the reason why you purchase Equal Exchange bananas. If you’d like to brush up on your banana history, take a look at this animated excerpt from Jason’s film:
Avocados: It’s not hard to draw the parallels between the banana story and the Mexican-grown avocado industry in the United States. Small farmers are systematically disenfranchised by governments and markets, and the result of clashes is often violent. Less has been written about the atrocities occurring in the avocado business, but as the US market grows, more is coming to light. Here is some coverage we’ve seen come out.
Tip: Read the following articles in order as they appear here
- “Blood Avocados: The Dark Side of Your Guacamole,” Vocativ, Nov. 18th, 2013
- “Vigilante groups seize control of towns in Western Mexico,” Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 19th, 2013
- “Mexican vigilante gunmen disarm police,” Daily Mail, Jan. 6th, 2014
For comparison, 2012 stats were:
11,000,000 Equal Exchange Bananas sold
$1,600,000 paid directly to small farmers
$143,000 paid to farmers as a social premium
We love that growth!!!
You are cordially invited to Equal Exchange’s
The Future of
March 21st, 22nd, and 23rd 2014
Join an Ecuadorian banana farmer; produce managers and distributors; students and academics; journalists, activists, and allies to discuss the future of this powerful movement.
Special Guest Panelists Include:
President, El Guabo Cooperative, Guayaquil, Ecuador
author of “Bananas: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World”
General Manager, El Guabo Cooperative, Guayaquil, Ecuador
Founder of BananaLink, a non-profit working for fair and sustainable banana trade in the UK
Hans-Willem van der Waal,
CEO of Agrofair (original investor in Equal Exchange Bananas), European importer, Netherlands, EU
Other special guest panelists to be announced!
Register by February 1st and admission is only $25.00 per person for all three events.
Learn more and RSVP to each event at http://BananaCon2014.eventzilla.net
You can find more resources on our website:
ICMIF member Union Life Insurance is the only insurance cooperative in Thailand. It was established by cooperatives in October, 1994 and was registered in March, 1995. The organization is committed to providing the best services for its members at a competitive cost through self-help, mutual help and to secure the interest, benefits, and income of both cooperatives and members throughout the region.
On September 18-20, 2013, Union Life Insurance officers attended the two day ICMIF – Asia and Oceania Association (AOA) Networking seminar “Improving Access to Insurance”, which was held in the Philippines and hosted by ICMIF, RIMANSI and CARD MRI, the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development Mutually Reinforcing Institutions.
The seminar gave an immense impact and inspiration to the delegates from Union Life Insurance to move forward, strengthen and expand the company’s business relationship by collaborating with CARD MRI Insurance Agency, an insurance agency engaged in selling both life and non-life insurance and ICMIF member CARD MBA, the leading microinsurance provider in the Philippines, for the development and enhancement of our products and services as well as to work together to share experiences and knowledge and therefore improve each of the organizations’ operations.
It was on 23 October, 2013, when both parties agreed and entered into a Signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in order to move towards the successful completion of the plan. The signing of the MOU took place at the Union Life Insurance head office in Bangkok, Thailand.
Mr Sahaphon Sangmek, Managing Director of Union Life Insurance and CARD MRI Managing Director Dr Jaime Aristotle Alip signed the Memorandum of Understanding together with Ms Virginia D. Baldo, President of CARD MBA; Mrs May Dawat, Chairman of the Board (CaMIA); and Mr Picha Siriyodhin, Deputy Managing Director of Union Life Insurance. The said signing of ceremony was attended and witnessed by ACCU.
Possible areas of collaboration have been discussed and study thoroughly. The areas to explore are collaboration on technical assistance; development and distribution of products and services; and investments and ownership agreement.
Lastly, on 16 December, 2013, when all parties have come to an understanding, the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was formally signed which was held at San Pablo, Laguna in the Philippines, where the CARD MBA and CaMIA’s head office is located.
The purpose of this memorandum of Agreement (MOA) is to specifically identify the areas of collaboration on terms of services to be provided and to clearly understand the roles and responsibilities of each party as they relate to providing the consolidated Description of Services that serves both parties.
Union Life Insurance says: This great collaboration is a direct outcome of the ICMIF AOA Networking Seminar in September 2013. We do thank you for the opportunity and the great impact that this successful partnership will bring us for a brighter future.
A total of 417 members of Fagor Electrodomésticos are already working in other cooperatives of the Mondragon Corporation. The strong commitment of the Corporation to employment is materialized thus, just two months after the declaration from Fagor, filing for protection from creditors, 417 worker-members have already been achieved relocated.
Le Sénat français a adopté en première lecture le projet de loi relatif à l’économie sociale et solidaire
Le projet de loi relatif à la reconnaissance et au développement de l’économie sociale et solidaire a été adopté par le Sénat français en première lecture le 7 novembre 2013. Il devra faire l’objet d’une présentation devant l’Assemblée Nationale au printemps 2014.
Le texte détermine le champ, les principes et l’organisation de l’économie sociale tout en consacrant une part importante des développements à la modernisation des statuts des acteurs.
Le projet arrête pour la première fois dans le droit français une définition des coopératives tout en élargissant à la totalité d’entre elles la procédure spécifique de la révision coopérative jusque-là cantonnée à certains acteurs coopératifs seulement au rang desquels se trouvaient les coopératives agricoles, les coopératives d’entreprises et les coopératives de travailleurs (Scop).
Les Scop se voient dotées de deux outils essentiels permettant d’assurer leur croissance et leur développement.
La création du régime de la Scop d’amorçage devrait faciliter les transmissions d’entreprises aux salariés en autorisant, pendant un délai de 7 ans, le portage du capital par un associé qui pourra être soit un établissement financier, soit une autre coopérative de travailleurs. Les salariés conserveront néanmoins pendant cette période la majorité des droits de vote.
L’introduction du régime des groupements de Scop vise à favoriser le rapprochement de coopératives de travailleurs et la recherche de synergie entre ces structures. Le texte distingue les constitutions de groupement par transformation en Scop de filiales de coopératives de travailleurs qu’il cherche à encourager et les constitutions de groupement par prise de participation.
Dans les deux cas, le projet de loi introduit la faculté pour une coopérative de détenir jusqu’à 51% des droits de vote d’une autre coopérative membre du groupement. Cette limitation ne prend effet qu’au bout d’un délai de 10 ans lorsque la société détenue est issue de la transformation d’une filiale en Scop.
Le projet de loi introduit également dans le droit français une obligation générale d’information triennale des salariés sur les possibilités qui leur sont offertes de reprises d’une société. Il s’agit d’un mécanisme d’anticipation qui encadre les modalités du régime de droit d’information, également consacré par le projet de loi, en cas de transmission effective d’entreprises.
Directeur juridique chez la Cofédération Générale des Scop/ Head of Legal Sevices at the French Confederation of Worker Co-operatives
Festive sales for the UK’s two largest co-operatives have shown strong growth.
The Co-operative Group reported that like-for-like sales in the three weeks to 4th January grew by 3.5% (2013: 2.2%), with the core convenience stores reporting growth of 5.4%.
Meanwhile, the John Lewis Partnership reported that during the five weeks to 28th December, total sales were £734m, 7.2% up compared with last year, 6.9% on a like-for-like basis.
Across the grocery industry, Sainsbury reported its "best Christmas ever" with total sales for third quarter up 2.5%, while Tesco reported a 2.4% drop in like-for-like sales.
The Co-operative Group further added that in the 13 weeks to 4th January, like-for-like sales grew by 1% on the corresponding period last year (2013: 0.3%). Over the same period food stores delivered like-for-like sales climb of 3.2%.
But, despite the growth, food sales over the 13 weeks were flat at £1,697.9m (£1,695.4m), which reflected the disposal of larger non-core stores during the period, according to the Group. In Pharmacy, sales were up 1% over the same period, while the online electrical business saw sales increase by 28.2% in the period.
John Lewis said its online sales for the five weeks were 22.6% up on the previous year, while its electricals and home technology sales were 10.7% up on last year.
Waitrose, a part of John Lewis, also said it had seen its most successful Christmas on record with total branch sales (excluding fuel) for the 12 trading days ending 31st December up 6.5% on last year and 4.1% on a like-for-like basis.
For the five week period ending on Christmas Eve, total sales (excluding fuel) were £736m - up 5.4% on the equivalent period last year and 3.1% on a like for like basis.
The Co-operative Group’s chief executive of retail, Steve Murrells, said: “These results are a reflection of all our efforts to improve the customer offer and show the value of our strategic focus on convenience retailing. We are now delivering better products, at better prices, in better shops.
"With household budgets under pressure, customers want affordable, quality products delivered locally by colleagues who are really engaged and that is what we are delivering. We still have much to do, but these trading figures give us real encouragement.
“Looking ahead, we believe that our core convenience stores should continue their strong performance. Through the rest of the year we will continue to further develop our food strategy and customer offer around the core convenience estate, where we have a leading market presence and position.”
Group Chief Executive Euan Sutherland added that the figures from the food business were “very encouraging” especially while “the Co-operative Bank was in the headlines”.
As part of the wider strategic review currently underway, the Group added that it is reviewing its approach to financial reporting to ensure it is communicating its performance in the most appropriate ways to all stakeholders. The conclusion of this work will be shared later in the year.
Andy Street, managing director of John Lewis, added: "This Christmas has seen trade take a different shape to previous years, with an early peak driven by Black Friday and a huge surge in the final 10 days. Many of the big online shopping days and weeks occurred earlier in the period but shops were packed in the last-minute rush on 'manic Monday' (23rd December) when we saw our city centre shops record peak days.”
Representatives from co-operative retail businesses are set to discuss the "co-operative way" of winning business.
The National Retail Consumer Conference, organised by Co-operatives UK, will be held in Solihull next month (21st-23rd February) where Steve Murrells, chief executive of retail at the Co-operative Group, will be a keynote speaker, giving insight on changes in the Group's food business over the past 12 months.
Other speakers include Johnston Birchall, a co-operative governance expert and Professor of Social Policy at Stirling University; Siôn Whellens from design and printing co-operative Calverts, which developed the international COOP marque; and James Walton, Chief Executive of IDG Retail Analysis, which helps businesses anticipate and respond to the consequences of unprecedented economic pressures, political change and environmental stress.
This year, the annual event will focus on the challenges faced by the retail sector, such as changing consumer behavior, the growth of discounters, food provenance and supply chain. The conference will also look at the social and economic implications of food and health policies. Delegates will discuss how to assert the co-operative difference, winning customers and ensuring their continued loyalty.
Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK, said: “The National Retail Consumer Conference is a unique opportunity for co-operative retailers to reflect on what makes them distinct and successful. The conference will address strategies for growth, how the sector can attract new customers and encourage more people to make the co-operative choice.
“Co-operation brings real business benefits in difficult retail conditions. This annual event is a fantastic forum for sharing ideas and expertise, after all, being co-operative is what marks us out from other retailers on the high street.”
• Delegates can book their place online, with prices starting at £185 for members of Co-operatives UK. For details visit www.uk.coop/nrcc.
The Co-operative Bank is now owned by 70% of its bondholders, with the Co-operative Group holding the remaining 30%.
The liability management exercise has raised £1bn of tier 1 capital from bondholders, alongside £333m of funds from the Co-operative Group and £40m of interest savings towards the £1.5bn needed to fill the capital shortfall.
In a statement, the Group said it is confident a further £127m will be raised this year to meet the full £1.5bn to complete the recapitalisation plan.
On the date of completion on 20th December, Euan Sutherland, the Group’s chief executive, said: “Today we have taken a major step forward in securing the future of the Co-operative Bank, with the support of our investors. In putting together this plan, we listened to all our stakeholders and worked to protect the interests of customers and members while avoiding a taxpayer bail-out. The Co-operative Group has played its part with the contribution of substantial funds, including a targeted solution to meet the needs of retail bondholders.
“The Co-operative Group remains the Bank’s single largest shareholder and we look forward to working with other investors and the strengthened management team to ensure the Co-operative Bank moves forward, while remaining true to its ethical heritage.”
The Bank’s Chief Executive, Niall Booker, commented that “there is much work to do”, but applauded the “successful conclusion” of “Europe’s first voluntary, non-taxpayer funded bail-in”. He added: “We have set out a clear strategy, with a smaller, de-risked Bank, focused on retail and small and medium sized businesses and we will now deliver that, building on the Co-operative Bank’s heritage.”
The financial regulator that approved the appointment of Paul Flowers as chair of the Co-operative Bank has stood by its decision.
Clive Adamson, Director of Supervision at the Financial Conduct Authority, told the Treasury select committee, which is investigating the collapse of the Co-operative Group’s Project Verde deal, that he made the correct judgement.
Mr Adamson interviewed Paul Flowers in 2010 at the then regulator, the Financial Services Authority, and approved him as chair of the Bank’s board. He said: “I stand by the decision that I made at the time. I’m as surprised as all of us of the events surround Mr Flower’s apparent misdemeanours. I don’t think it was a mistake making the decision with the information I had at the time.”
The reason that Rev Flowers was selected as non-executive chair, according to Mr Adamson, was because of his governance skills to manage a board of 22 individuals, which grew to this level following the merger with Britannia building society. He added: “It was an unruly board and it was important that somebody was put in place to better chair that board. My view, at the time, was that Mr Flowers did have the confidence to act as non-executive chairman of the Bank. Just to be clear, our view is that as non-executive chairman he does not run the bank, the role of the non-executive chairman is to run the board.”
Mr Adamson commented that additionally there were a “series of new members of the board from the Britannia side as well as Co-op”, which was “difficult to manage because of the two sides”.
During his 90-minute interview with Rev Flowers, Mr Adamson said it was apparent the incoming chair “wasn’t on top of the technical details” of banking, but he "was on top” of the concept of issues around capital and the integration risk of Britannia.
Referring to Paul Flowers' appearance at the select committee in November, he added: “The individual you had in front of you was not the individual I saw in 2010. He was much more articulate, more cogent. He did appear to grasp the issues around the firm at that point.”
Committee chair Andrew Tyrie said it was an “extraordinary decision” to put a “financial illiterate in charge”. He commented on decision to approve Rev Flowers: “One of your solutions was to put a financial illiterate to tame the board. At the time that did not ring alarm bells?”
Mr Adamson, who was former director, Major Retail Groups Division at the FSA (2008-2011), said: “As of today he would not be approved. But, I stood by the judgement I made. Do I regret what subsequently happened? Yes I do.”
When pressed on Rev Flowers’ suitability for the role, committee member David Ruffley asked the FCA representative that of all the people he had interviewed for non-executive chair positions from other financial institutions how was Mr Flowers’ knowledge? “Was he the worst of the bunch,” he said. Mr Adamson replied: “Yes.”
Paul Flowers was given a more thorough vetting by two junior members of the FSA in 2009 when he was appointed as non-executive director, according to Mr Adamson. At the subsequent approval interview as chair nine-months later, Mr Adamson said he agreed with Rev Flowers that two deputy chairs should be appointed to support him. Rodney Baker-Bates and David Davies were elected by the Co-operative Bank board in this capacity. The committee also acknowledged that those two individuals were the only directors who voted against the Verde deal to acquire 632 branches.
Mr Tyrie added that the approval of Rev Flowers as chair of the Bank was “a negligent decision, a very poor decision".
For the fourth consecutive year, Midcounties Co-operative is to be named one of the best organisations to work for.
The society has secured a place on Sunday Times 25 Best Big Companies to Work For list, which is based on employee feedback.
Last year, Midcounties was ranked 13th, up from 24th position in 2012 and 2011. An awards ceremony in London on 27th February will reveal the full ranking.
Ben Reid, Chief Executive of the Midcounties Co-operative, said: “To be recognised as a top big company to work for based purely on colleague feedback is a great honour and also a significant endorsement of the co-operative values which our society embodies."
Last September, Midcounties commissioned an independent survey of staff and found that it had its highest-ever engagement rate, with a score of 80 out of 100.
The GfK Market Research survey asked its 9,000 staff to consider how well they understand the society and its values, as well as their satisfaction with their roles. GfK rank any organisation achieving 80 or above as ‘outstanding’ in terms of engagement.