Page last updated at 13:08 GMT, Wednesday, 7 May 2008 14:08 UK

Co-ops 'way forward' for economy

John Lewis
Success stories like John Lewis have been held up as examples of co-ops

The growth of co-ops could help Scotland compete with the world's top economies, according to Finance Secretary John Swinney.

Globally the top 300 co-ops have a turnover of $1 trillion (500bn) and Mr Swinney wants Scottish businesses to take a leaf out of their book.

His comments came as Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS) unveiled highlights of its first year.

It said the number of co-operatives had grown by 6% in the past year.

Of those several were expected to have a turnover of more than 2m.

But Mr Swinney wants to raise the bar. He said: "This government believes Scotland has the people, talent and the ambition to become one of the world's most successful nations.

I believe co-ops can play a greater role in contributing to Scotland's national success and increasing sustainable economic growth
Finance Secretary John Swinney

"The experience of small countries that surround Scotland shows that higher, sustainable economic growth must be the basis of our national success.

"CDS figures show that co-ops in Scotland currently contribute just 4.6% of GDP, compared to an average 17% in the growth economies of Finland, Switzerland and Sweden.

"I believe co-ops can play a greater role in contributing to Scotland's national success and increasing sustainable economic growth. I support CDS in its aim to grow the co-operative sector and help Scotland join the Arc of Prosperity that surrounds us."

CDS said the number of Scottish co-operative businesses had grown by 6% in one year as a direct result of its activities to support the sector.

New start-ups include Scottish Woodfuels, Scotland's first co-operative timber company, and Western Isles Energy Co-op, set up by six community landowners to develop renewable energy.

Role models

Ian Hughes, CDS chief executive, said: "We've made an excellent start but there is a lot of work still to be done.

"Co-ops are an important component for economic growth and very much real businesses, as demonstrated by success stories such as John Lewis Partnership, Dunfermline Building Society and the Co-operative Group.

"All it would take for Scotland to join the 'Arc of Prosperity' is for four more co-ops to grow into businesses the size of First Milk, which has become the UK's leading dairy co-operative with 2,600 farmer members and a turnover approaching 500m in six years.

"We will continue using role models like these to highlight the benefits of doing business co-operatively."

Scotland's co-op sector currently comprises 500 commercial co-op, mutual and employee-owned businesses with a combined annual turnover of 4.6bn through 1,200 business outlets and assets of 22bn.

They employ 27,000 people, have more than 2.1m members and account for 4.6% of Scottish GDP.

Lena Wilson, chief operating officer for Scottish Enterprise, said: "Since the Fenwick Weavers in Ayrshire forged the world's first co-op in 1769, the co-operative movement has mushroomed into a global phenomenon representing more than 800m people.

"It seems only fitting that, in collaboration with business and the Scottish Government, we can start to claim a bigger share of that huge success story."

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