With evidence showing that people want more control over the economy, their workplace and their communities, and a new programme of support for co-operatively run organisations, is now the time for the co-operative option?
Your local pub is closing down and you ask whether you can run it yourselves. Your employer keeps making decisions at odds with what you and your colleagues know works best. Your football club displays poor financial judgement, and you think what a difference it would make if people like you, the fans, had a say...
We collect evidence in a new report, The Co-operative Option, about what people think about communities and business, and find that people are fed up because they have no control over things that matter to them - over where they live, where they work, where they shop. And we are finding, too, that people are looking for a co-operative option - clubbing together with other people in order to save their libraries, start new co-operative businesses or working to give supporters a say in their clubs.
The economy might be looking up (a little), but people don't seem to feel confident about their ability to influence what goes on it. 59% of people feel that - as customers, employees and suppliers - they have no control over the economy. And 62% say the same for the businesses they use.
Not surprisingly, a large number of people would like the businesses they shop at and use to be set up as a co-op, giving them a say in how it is run. 68% of people would like ownership of their local supermarket and health provider through a co-op. 66% said the same of their energy provider and homecare provision. This rises to 69% when people considered their leisure centre or library.
This sense of disconnection is strong at work, too. In 2015 more than 58% of people in work felt they had no influence. This has risen to 68% in 2016. The figure is even higher for part-time workers, with 70% reporting no influence in 2015 and 75% 12 months later. Whilst they may be more dreams than career plans, three times as many would like run their own business or work in a co-operative than currently do.
It's in our communities, more than anywhere else, that we see the co-operative option coming alive. It is thought that in the last five years, 550 libraries, 7,500 local pubs and 2,000 village shops have closed. Meanwhile, local authorities and charities are struggling to main historic buildings and community centres.
We are already seeing people pooling resources and saving vital services and assets themselves. In the last five years, 57,000 people invested more than £60 million in community share schemes. In the North Yorkshire village of Hudswell residents saved their local pub from closure, which now houses the village library too. In South West Scotland, residents of Portpatrick pooled resources to buy their harbour so they could take control of its redevelopment. In Hastings, locals bought the pier, which is being refurbished and will be opening again soon ....
14% of those asked had taken part in this kind of activity already, and a further 58% saw setting up a co-operative as an appealing option if important buildings or services in their area were under threat - particularly historical buildings, libraries and leisure centres, cinemas and theatres, as well as local pubs and shops.
What does all this tell us? Three things, I think.
First, people are fed up with having no control. Decisions are made that can have detrimental effects on their lives - from the closure of local shops to the way workplaces are run - and people want to have some say in them.
Second, people see working together as a way to take control where it matters. It's not just local or small-scale organisations like leisure centres and community buildings, but everything from supermarkets and social care to mobile phone and TV providers.
Third, and the reason why we have been looking at this in the first place, we need to have things in place to support people starting or running co-ops. From advice on legal and financial essentials to strategies for involving members and planning for the future, if we want people to be able to run things together we need the support to make it work.
The Hive is a new £1 million business support programme from Co-operatives UK and The Co-operative Bank, designed to help people start up and grow co-operatively run organisations. The co-op sector is already worth £37 billion to the UK economy, but if support is more widely available to people wanting to take control together, imagine the difference it could make.