Viewpoint: Michael Fairclough, head of community and co-operative investment, The Co-operative Group

  • Read about the brands that are stepping up to provide public service in the face of government cuts, here
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We think co-operatives offer a fundamental say in how the economy is run and are keen to help businesses set up as co-operatives, which are run by their members. The main difference between a co-operative business model and any other is that it brings a sense of democracy and ownership.

Until three years ago, most of the support we gave to other co-operative businesses was in grants. But over the past three years we have established an advice and training service delivered across the UK by seven consortia of development professionals.

Someone who is thinking of setting up a business can fill in a simple online application through the Co-operative Enterprise Hub and the least they will get is half a day’s advice from a development professional as to whether a co-operative model will work.

The development professional can then offer up to four days’ advice and training in marketing, business planning and legal areas. We have offered support to about 700 co-ops so far and are now finding that demand is outstripping capacity. We have not asked for any payment or shares from the businesses asking for advice, but what we might do in future is focus on the businesses that have the strongest chance of becoming co-ops.

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If we pay for advice and training and get a new co-op off the ground, we might ask them to commit to being part of a support network. Before we give advice and training, we will suggest they go and talk to a successful co-op, such as the Butchers Arms pub in Lyvennet, Cumbria, and if they are still interested come back to us. That means we will put better investment into advice and training.

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