Co-op Fund wins overwhelming support at Congress

Phil Frampton and Jo Bird at Co-op CongressCo-operative Business Consultants (CBC) made the winning pitch at Co-op Congress, held in Birmingham last weekend. Co-op Fund would provide much needed professional support to new ventures, funded by contributions from profitable co-operative businesses. Co-op Fund will be by the co-op movement, for the co-op movement.

Phil Frampton from CBC and FC United of Manchester said “Ten years ago this month, a few thousand Manchester football fans voted to create a club of their own to serve the community. They had no team, no ground and no club – just a name – FC United of Manchester, FCUM. It was just an idea that many said would die. Undeterred, they raised thousands of pounds and formed a co-op.

“But we needed more than will power. We needed co-op help and expertise to transform the idea into a reality and create the business structure to develop and raise further capital. This came especially via the Co-operative Enterprise Hub.

“Today our club have the Northern Premier League champions, Women’s, Reserves, Youth and Disabilities teams. And this week we open our £6 million stadium where we have already played European super power Benfica.

“But the Co-op Enterprise Hub has gone. We need a movement wide Co-op Fund to replace it and ensure that fledging co-ops and new ventures get the support that FC United had.”

Jo Bird, from CBC said, “The co-op movement can also learn from our past efforts. We have tried a co-op fund before, with some success. In 2001, the Co-operative Commission recommended what became Co-operative Action, and I was its first manager. Contributions came from half a dozen societies. The Co-operative Loan Fund is still revolving and going strong, under the able management of Co-operative and Community Finance.”

“But the grant fund struggled to find its way until Gareth Nash, Angela Davies and others developed its successor, the Co-operative Enterprise Hub, in 2007.”

“Rather than grants, the award winning Hub delivered tailored, experienced and fully funded advice to over sixteen hundred co-operatives to start or continue trading, across all parts of the UK. The Hub funded human resource, person to person support, to help ensure that financial investment in co-ops stays within the co-operative economy.”

“The Hub was the driving force for the development of co-operatives for seven years. The Hub generated more positive PR for the Group than any other social goals activity, including Charity of the Year. Many people and organisations in the co-operative movement were funders, beneficiaries or advisors with the Co-operative Enterprise Hub.”

“The fatal weakness of the Hub was it was 100% funded by the Group. When the Group’s financial troubles became clearer, the Group’s priorities changed quickly – and the Hub was completely cut.”

Phil continued, “Our proposal today is that together we establish a Co-op Fund, for the co-op movement, and by the co-op movement. All member co-ops would donate the equivalent of a percentage of their annual surplus to support the development of other co-operatives.”

“This is not a new idea. Ed Mayo pointed to Italy in April in Co-op News and suggested we consider their example of giving 3%. In Argentina co-ops give 5%, in Mondragon in Spain, it’s 10%.”

“We call upon the Board and Executive of Co-operatives UK to actively promote the creation of a Co-op Fund – to be launched at Congress next year. And we can do this with a smile. FC members chose Broadhurst Park in a ballot for the stadium name. Come and visit a £6 million pound example of Principle Six in action.”

Congress delegates overwhelmingly agreed. Several Societies pledged to take this Co-op Fund proposal to their Boards for consideration. Delegates pledged to lobby the Co-operative Group to use part of its forthcoming plastic bag levy for co-operative development through the Co-op Fund. The Co-op Fund won the most popular vote of all Congress pitches.

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