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The Purpose of Mutual and Co-operative Business in Society

Robin Fieth, Chief Executive

Robin Fieth, Chief Executive | Building Societies Association

3 min read Partner content

Robin Fieth, Chief Executive at the Building Societies Association, shares how co-operatives and mutuals are helping tackle the big challenges in society

ABCUL, afm, Building Societies Association and Co-operatives UK logos

Anyone working within the building society, credit union, cooperative, mutual insurance or employee-ownership sectors will talk regularly about ‘being mutual’, ‘member ownership’ and ‘member value’, it’s just part of our everyday language. But what does it mean to the outside world, and do they understand, and more importantly value, what Mutuality really means.

We know that the mutual and co-operative sector makes a significant contribution to the UK economy – research suggests it’s around 3.5% of UK GDP. But we also know that mutual value goes much further. Thriving co-operatives and mutuals are already delivering: 

  • An inclusive, growing economy that benefits everyone 
  • Thriving communities everywhere 
  • Societal action on climate change and reaching net zero 

Examples of this include the following, but there are plenty of others I could have included:

  • Mutual businesses represent less than 1% of all businesses in the UK, but they create 1.45% of all employment
  • Savers with building societies received £1.5 billion more in savings interest than they would have received from the major banks1
  • More than 130,000 ordinary people have invested over £210 million, to benefit their communities through the co-operatives Community Shares programme2

In short, co-operatives and mutuals help to strengthen economic resilience, contribute to growth and increase consumer choice, whilst also delivering value to their members, rather than external shareholders. By offering a competitive alternative to shareholder-owned businesses, we are essential for the UK to build an inclusive, growing and diverse economy.

The trade bodies of co-operatives and mutuals – ABCUL, AFM, BSA and Co-ops UK – have therefore joined forces to call on the next Government to play its part in creating a new covenant between co-operative and mutual businesses, government and society. It should be a covenant characterised by purpose-driven businesses working for the benefit of our communities and our society.

In our joint Prospectus we are asking the incoming Government to:

  1. Create an environment that supports the growth of co-operatives and mutuals by fostering corporate diversity and placing them at the heart of their economic strategy
  2. Deliver an overarching legislative and regulatory framework that enables mutuals and co-operatives to meet the needs of the communities they serve and compete fairly with other businesses
  3. Create and preserve capital to support new and growing co-operatives and mutuals

The 25 page document outlines the benefits the co-operative and mutual sector brings to the UK, with lots of inspiring examples of the different ways we demonstrate mutuality in action. 

We are planning a series of parliamentary events across the UK in the new year to engage with politicians from all parties. We hope these sessions will help build their understanding of the value co-operative and mutual business bring to the economy as well as garnering their support for the actions we require to maintain that value.

If you would like more information about this, please do email Kate.Creagh@bsa.org.uk

One final statistic to leave you with … the total number of memberships of UK co-operative and mutuals is greater than the total population of the UK.

I do hope you will take time to read the Prospectus

Notes

  1. In the 12 months to March 2023
  2. Since 2012

 

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