Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Student Eats - Growth for sustainable food enterprises

I was really pleased to be able to support the Student Eats programme at their residential in Leeds as an adviser on the Our Bright Future programme during June.  My main delivered content focused on 2 main issues:
  1. Issues to consider for enterprises scaling up, different models and approaches
  2. Legal structures used by social enterprises, amd the impact of trading on charities
During the afternoon I was able to sit down and provide one to one surgery advice to each of the 9 student enterprises present - from growing groups and veg bag schemes to picklers & preservers and apple juice producers.

The informal feedback was that they really valued my help, and felt it was really useful in developing their business plans.  I felt privileged to be able to work with young people who are focused on saving the planet not destroying it!

The follow up guidance that I drafted on how to develop marketing strategies and marketing materials will hopeully help the student enterprises move to the next stage of their development.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Licensed to Share

After completing a Community Shares Standard Mark review for the Puzzle Hall Inn community share offer, the submission of 2 peer reviews of Community Share offers and completion of an intensive training course, on 27th January 2018 I signed off the paperwork to become a Probationary Licensed Community Shares Practitioner.  This means that I can assess a community share offer against the Community Shares Standard Mark, although my work will be overseen by the Community Shares Unit until I am awarded full Licensed Practitioner status.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Co-op or CIC? Why not both?!!

On a number of occasions over the past year or so I have had social enterprise clients tell me that they would like their social enterprise to be a co-operative but prefer the CIC as a legal form so have opted for that instead. The reasons are commonly around accessing funding, protecting the assets of the enterprise, wanting the "CIC" badge or just the ease with which anyone can register a CIC.

The good news is that it is possible to do both!  I thought I should throw this blog together as the issue keeps cropping up, and then I can say: "Read This!"

First off, let's clarify the issues at the heart of this quandary.  Social enterprises (like all enterprises) have to decide how they want to organise (ownership, governance and management) and then pick a legal form that enshrines this way of organising while meeting their trading, finance and other business requirements.  The diagram below shows how the legal structure addresses these issues.

The "co-operative" bit is the way of organising, where ownership and democratic control is exercised by one or more stakeholder groups. A co-operative is an enterprise that abides by the ICA co-operative values and principles.

CIC is a legal form, like Company or Society. it is a Company with special status within the law that provides a statutory asset lock and limits on profit distribution.

Co-ops use a wide range of legal forms including Co-operative Society, Community Benefit Society, Companies and CIC can be among them - as long as the co-op can satisfy the CIC community interest test and conditions on asset lock and profit distribution. I have registered a few co-operative CICs (and been  Director of a Co-operative CIC). I have also provided support to a number of existing CICs who organise as co-operatives and have the co-operative values and principles written into their governing document (Articles of Association).  Co-operatives UK even has a model governing document to specifically adddress organising around Co-op Values & Principles and meeting CIC Regulator requirements.

Can a CIC truly be a co-op?
It really depends who you ask.  Some co-operative practitioners have registered dozens of CICs whereas others have never been near them.  A good point was raised by my colleague, and mate, Andy Woodcock of Acorn Co-op Support (which is itself a member of Co-op Culture).  If you look deep into the legislation (check out Chapter 11 of the CIC Regulator guidance) you will find that The CIC Regulator has the power - among other things - to appoint and remove Directors or appoint a manager.  This doesn't exactly sit well with the Co-operative principles of Member Democratic Control and Independence and Autonomy.
But there is some qualification: "The powers will not therefore be used lightly and in general it is expected that the members and directors of a CIC will ensure that the CIC conducts its affairs honestly and in accordance with the law and its own constitution." So, arguably as long as you act within the law your democracy, independence and autonomy will be preserved.  It is worth pointing out that Societies and Companies can also have action taken against them through the courts!
For some people this will matter.  For others it won't! 
So, if you want to create a co-operative and register as a CIC, or are an existing CIC that wants to change your governing document to reflect Co-operative Values and Principles then get in touch and we can discuss how I can help you.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Co-ops Collaborating for a Sustainable Future - 12th October

I will be chairing the Co-operatives South East regional co-ops conference and AGM in Brighton entitled “Co-ops Collaborating for a Sustainable Future“.  It is focusing on how co-operatives can forge trading partnerships to reduce unnecessary waste and carbon emissions while boosting their trading activity.  So what’s it all about?

Sustainability has multiple meanings:
  • businesses being sustainable in economic terms (i.e. ensuring you generate sufficient profits to reinvest, planning for growth that is sustainable)
  • co-ops being sustainable in the way they manage themselves (e.g. delivering sufficient member benefit to retain members in your co-op, taking advantage of non-hierarchical management to be reduce management time)
  • environmental sustainability (e.g. the way our business processes use energy, water and other natural resources)
This event is going to explore how, by collaborating more, co-ops can lever in benefits for their co-ops, for the planet and for its inhabitants.  If we can use our co-operative advantage to reduce operating costs while improving our environmental performance it’s a win-win-win situation.  Social responsibility is written into the DNA of co-ops (the 7th co-op principle is concern for the community and impending ecological catastrophe affects the global community). This means if you buy from another co-op they are more likely to be operating to high environmental standards.  If you can’t fully audit your supply chain, using co-ops by preference is a start! Take that along with the 6th co-op principle and you will see an automatic imperative for us to start looking at ways we can collaborate to be more sustainable.  We are pre-disposed to working with other co-ops.  This is something private businesses would probably not consider if their imperative is to generate shareholder value (whatever the expense to the community) and if they see all other businesses as competitors. Picking an example of transport, trucks motor up and down the motorways and A-roads of this country, all too frequently empty on their return trips.  All that fuel being burned and traffic chaos created so an empty lorry can return to its home.  Could producer co-ops and those involved in distribution see an opportunity to carry co-operatively produced goods on the return trip?  Just a thought!  The same could apply to premises that often sit empty, and even the way that we purchase goods and services for our businesses. Really the event is about starting a whole load of conversations between co-ops.  At the event we will be provoking reps from co-ops across the south east with these questions:
  • Could you be working together with other co-operatives to improve your sustainability?
  • Are you looking for opportunities to share transport, premises or other costs with other co-ops?
Co-operatives South East is a regional co-operative council.  It is a federal body bringing together co-ops across the region with the intention of strengthening the sector, developing inter-trading, and promoting the co-op option. I am coming to the end of my 3 year tenure as a Director this October.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Solent Social Enterprise Zone event 10 October

Jammed between Community Business weekend (7th and 8th October) and Social Saturday (14th October), the Solent Social Booking here.
Enterprise Zone action group are holding a Stakeholder Event  on 10th October. 

As part of the action group, I have always been keen on interaction rather than presentation - we are a body of enterprises and practitioners with a range of valuable experiences.  I'm pleased to say that along with other action group members I will be facilitating some active workshop discussions to try and identify from participants the answers to 2 key questions:

For stakeholders - organisations working with us to build the social enterprise economy in the Solent area - and social enterprises we are asking
"What are the barriers to you buying from, using or finding Social Enterprise providers?"
 For social enterprises taking part we will also be asking
"What are the barriers to promoting your Social Enterprise or selling your goods and services?"
Then we will work on identifying solutions and actions that we can commit to taking.

In other words, what can we do to get more trade flowing into businesses with a social purpose?

See you there!

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

growing Co-ops and Growing co-ops

growing Co-ops
Intentions to keep this blog up to date have been thwarted by the sheer volume of activity I've been involved in.  As you will see from the "approved provider" logo to the right, I am a provider to the Co-operatives UK/Co-operative Bank Hive support programme which aims to grow co-ops. In addition to providing a great deal of online resources from videos to How To guides to business planning templates, they have been running "Is A Co-op Right For You" sessions and providing one-to-one support to co-operatives and people establishing them.
This video explains what The Hive provides.
I have had the pleasure to provide one-to-one support to several co-ops on behalf of the Hive including:
  • Strategic planning and support to write a business plan for a worker co-op
  • Developing a Membership Development  programme for a worker co-op
  • Strategic and business planning support to a student housing co-operative. 
I've also delivered two well attended "Is A Co-op Right For You" sessions: 1 in Brighton and 1 in Southampton - the latter focused on how co-ops can meet the needs of freelancers in the creative sector.
Growing co-ops
For Co-op Culture I have been supporting a number of community focused co-ops growing food and providing gardening services.

For Co-operantics, on behalf of South East Co-operative Support, I have been providing social impact consultancy to a charity working in recycling and childcare sectors.
I have also been busy with Co-operatives South East, whose AGM and conference I will be chairing before stepping down after 3 years on the Board.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The Art of Governance - community businesses, co-ops and Community Benefit Societies

It all sounds very grand but the video below is more of an interview than an instruction manual!
Whilst doing some work for Plunkett Foundation with Vert Woods Community Woodland, I was interviewed by one of their members about Community Benefit Societies, community co-operatives and governance in co-operatives and community businesses in general.