Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Ed Milliband And Energy : Solidarity Begins at Home!

We British are so generous a huge chunk of the energy supply industry is now owned by foreign firms so we have the joy of knowing we are increasing the GDP of Germany, France or Spain every time we put the kettle on. And those who have stayed loyal to dear old British Gas or Centrica as it is now known will be cheered to be able to make a contribution to the £16,439,000 that was shared by their top five executives’ in 2012. The poor old Chief Executive Sam Laidlaw had to struggle by on just £4,959,000.

I bet the pensioner described by John Major has having to choose between eating and heating will be heartened to know they are making a contribution so poor old Sam can manage on such a paltry sum. Old-Etonian Sam’s dad was a former chair of BP so we have to keep Sam in the style to which he has doubtless become accustomed.

The reality is of course that this is a monopoly. A complex one but a monopoly just the same. This is not a real market most people have only one electricity connection to their house and if they are lucky one gas connection. What we have is a pretend market. The energy companies have different marketing, billing, accounting and head office functions that add costs to our energy bills then they pretend to compete.

Ofgem may claim that, “protecting existing and future customers is its first priority.” But in the second sentence of their objectives they give the game away, “we do this by promoting competition, wherever appropriate, and regulating the monopoly companies which run the gas and electricity networks.”

In trying to regulate these monopolies they have the power to fine them for abuse of market position which they do in 2010-11 to the National Grid was fined £15 million. Other fines include £8 million and a £4.3million from National Grid Gas, £4.5 million from EDF, £5 million from British Gas Trading, £2million from RWE N-Power. More recently Scottish Power has agreed to £8million compensation for its customers following miss-selling.

We clearly we have a crazy world when firms are being constantly fined huge sums for not pretending hard enough.

If the market is a joke so is government energy policy. When researchers at Cambridge University did a review of energy policy for the Consumer Association they came up with a grim conclusion.

“The UK faces an ‘impossible trinity’ of energy policy objectives: decarbonisation, energy security and affordability”, they said.

It is time we came clean and admitted the simple truth. There is no market solution. The privatization and dismembering of the industry has made things worse not better. The interests of the owners and as we can see often the managers are totally incompatible with the needs of both the environment and of the customers.

These policy objectives cannot be met in the current ownership structure. If Ed Miliband wants an energy price freeze as a prelude to bringing the industry back into social ownership then three cheers! However if he things we need more competition then that can only means more fragmentation more marketing and billing systems on top of the same monopoly infrastructure and can only increase costs further!

It seems to be taking a long time for him to get it. Maybe his personal energy choice gives us a clue. Apparently he has switched from E On to First Utility.

When  Ian McCraig CEO of First Utility heard Ed’s new policy he said that a freeze was impractical and could put him under. This is the firm that increased its duel fuel tariff by 18.6% in June.

In terms of its green credentials they are not brilliant either with over half their electricity coming from coal and just 8% from renewables. It prides itself on accurate billing because it installs real time meters in people’s homes this does not equate to higher customer satisfaction ratings mind as it is 11 out of 14 in Which’s customer satisfaction tables.

So Ed what is wrong with Co-op Energy? As a consumer/owner it works in your interests, over half its electricity is from renewables and it has a better customer satisfaction rating. It been a bit tough at the Co-op lately and Co-op Energy is one of our star performers.

What is more Co-operative Energy became the ONLY energy firm to support his policy. Ramsay Dunning, general manager said: “We welcome the pledge Ed Miliband has made, to freeze energy prices if the party is elected in 2015. A tough approach, like this, is required to tackle the spiraling profits the Big Six continue to enjoy and, most importantly, to create a fairer deal for customers who are struggling or in some cases, unable to pay their energy bills.”

So come on Ed solidarity begins at home!


Friday, 25 October 2013

The End of Co-operative Banking?

I don’t know if you have seen the Danny Boyle film 127 hours. Even if you haven’t I am sure you will be familiar with the story. It is the story of the terrible accident that befell Aron Ralston who when climbing in south-eastern Utah fell and trapped his arm. Stuck for five and a half days under a dislodged boulder he was forced to amputate his own right forearm with a sort of blunt Swiss army knife.

This may sound melodramatic but this is the way I feel about what has happened to the Co-operative Bank. I feel like someone has cut off one of my arms.

May 9th 2013 will stay long in the memory for many co-operators. It was the day of reckoning for the Co-operative Bank. It was the day the great unravelling began, the day ratings agency Moody downgraded the Bank's debt rating to "junk" status. It said that that the bank was vulnerable to potential losses and warned that the bank may need "external support" if it could not strengthen its balance sheet.

In a massive piece of understatement the Bank said it was "disappointed" by Moody's decision.

The news preceded the resignation of chief executive, Barry Tootell, and the collapse of the bid to buy 631 branches from Lloyds Banking Group.

This unraveling has now ended with the enemy inside the gates. US Hedge Funds sometimes described as “vulture funds”, Silver Point Capital and Aurelius Capital Management now have significant stakes in the Bank. Presumably intending to do to us what they usually do with the distressed assets of developing economies.

Now Moody’s ever helpful in these matters say that the Bank will be forced to “take the axe” to costs. It is worth pointing out that the issues the Bank faces are not dissimilar to those faced by the rest of the banking sector and that had the collapse of 2008 not happened we would not know be talking about it. Or if the ludicrously low interest rate regime had not been in place ever since that has destroyed the margins in conventional retail banking.

Some Banks have had to be nationalised all have had to be recapitalised. So the environment for banking has certainly worsened dramatically. We also know that some of that crisis in the banking sector has been caused by bankers themselves.  By their ridiculous growth strategies and reckless lending of their taking on of risks and of products that they themselves did not understand in a mad greed driven feeding frenzy.

We had prided ourselves that we where different that the mutual sector or at least what was left of it had weathered the storm better than the joint stock banks. We encouraged people who had an ounce of ethics to “switch their money”.

Now we find according to no less than the ex CEO of the Co-operative Group and even the current chair that there is a crisis of governance at the Group.

I think we need to unpack these comments because governance has several elements to it. Clearly there is the structure of the organisation, is there something inherent in large scale co-operatives that makes them difficult to govern? Was there a healthy culture at the Group ie was there an open and respectful relationship between those who represented the interests of the members and the professional management? And what where the qualities of the key personnel, the senior executives of the Group and the Bank and the lay chair of the Bank and the Co-op Group?

Before we can answer these questions there is a review underway by Sir Christopher Kelly, Chair of the Kings Fund and former chair of the Committee for Standards in Public Life. His job is in looking at the trail of poor decisions that lead us to this situation “to look at the management structure and culture in which those decisions were taken; lines of accountability which governed those decisions; and the processes which led to them” and “To identify lessons which can be learnt to strengthen The Co-operative Bank and the wider Co‑operative Group, and the co-operative business model generally.”

Clearly we should wait until the results of that report which will be available at the Group AGM next May. In the meantime I am full of praise for the way; despite the dreadful hand his has been dealt, Euan Sutherland the current CEO of the Group has handled this situation.  There are nonetheless a few things I think that are now obvious.

Firstly that we should have no confidence in the advice from Group Chair Len Wardle or ex-CEO Peter Marks about what to do next. We should have stopped listening to them a long time ago. And it is inconceivable to me that Len could contemplate staying in the Chair until May he should have already gone.

Secondly a “Co-operative Bank” with a minority member’s stake maybe “ethical” in intent but it is evidently not, in my personal view, a Co-operative. And if it persists in using the name it should be asked to desist just as the brand Co-operative Travel which the Group sold to Thomas Cook has to disappear after a certain period.

Lastly of course I hope this amputation stops the bleeding and it protects the body of the Co-operative Group from any further liabilities.  It is sobering to remember that none of the demutualised building societies have survived the transition.



Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Wild Welcome for Co-op Students!

Co-op activists and thinkers will be hanging out together next weekend for the UK society of Co-operative Studies Conference at the beautiful Gilsland Spa Hotel near the village of Gilsland, half way between Carlisle and Hexham, very close to Hadrian’s Wall in Cumbria. At 700ft above sea level, the hotel commands spectacular views over the Cumbrian countryside. To the east of the Hotel are the heights of South Tynedale with the Pennines to the south. To the south west are the mountains of Cumbria and the Lake District and to the north are the rugged moors.
A pretty isolated place to find a Co-operative Hotel and Conference centre you may think. The Hotel itself been on the grand tour for many years famous visitors included Robbie Burns and Walter Scott when it was the Shaw Hotel and later the Gilsland Spa and Hydro but it came into the co-operative family when the Co-operative Wholesale Society (as the major shareholder) and a number of retail Co-operatives took over in 1902 and ran it as a convalescent home. Members of those co-operatives used the hotel for convalescence until during the First World War the hotel was taken over by the Military Authorities as a provisional hospital. Many soldiers were able to take advantage of the peace and quiet of Gilsland Spa to recuperate before being sent back to the carnage on the front line then during the Second World War it was used as maternity hospital.
This chequered career was revitalised in 1972, when the property was established as the Gilsland Spa Hotel and has been progressively developed as a family holiday centre. The ongoing investment programme has made all the bedrooms en-suite, with central heating throughout the hotel. The bars provide the ideal ambience for that relaxing drink or bar meal and the latest addition, the Orangery, allows it to offer superb wedding, conference and banqueting facilities. The Conference is supported by The Northern Region of the Co-operative Group who have a very close relationship with Gilsland.
Despite the bucolic scenery there is much going on in the co-op economy for conference delegates to chew over. There are keynotes from Chris Herries the very first woman Chair of Co-operatives UK, Eric Calderwood of Stirling University and Bob Yuill Deputy Chief Executive of the highly successful Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society. Topics for the weekend include important sessions on the future of co-op retail, developing growth strategies for co-op enterprises with case studies from the agricultural sector, lessons from a new business history marking 150 years of the CWS, as well as a roundup of the current state of the co-op sector. You can tell that the conference is starting to come of age because people want to add their own things to the agenda developing its own fringe.
These include the recently formed Students for Co-operation. In many parts of the world many of the services that students need as well as their accommodation is held co-operatively even in the USA the Harvard Co-op had a turnover last year of $45 million the 33,000 paid-up members received $856,000 amounting to a dividend of 8% on purchases its Harvard Square bookshop was voted the best bookshop in Boston. This is not unusual and yet here in the UK students are having a double whammy of higher fees and the squeeze of the private rented sector.  There is huge scope for co-operative solutions to the challenges students face and students in many parts of the country have made a start.
Another session that I am sure will be of interest to Morning Star readers is a session on Co-operators in the Spanish Civil War. Chaired by Ian Hewitt grandson of Nottingham volunteer James Feney and with contributions from historian Richardson and author David Ebsworth (the pen name of former T&G Regional Secretary Dave McCall) whose Agatha Christie style novel the Assassins Mark set in the Spanish Civil War ahs as its lead character s reporter from the great co-op newspaper the Reynolds News. 
There are also session covering life in a small one shop Co-op Society at Grosmont in North Yorkshire and the history of Co-ops in Cumbria, as well as more technical sessions covering Industrial and Provident Society law. Anyone who has even the vaguest interest in co-ops and lives between Carlisle and Newcastle will be welcome to drop in and will be sure to something to enjoy and find a great co-operative place to do it in!

Balance at the BBC?

Battling bias on the BBC is much more difficult than in the corporate press.  They do portray themselves as providing a spurious balance. The coverage of economic and business matters is the area of the media subject to more spin than any other and the BBC seem to fall for it all the time.
So there can be little surprise that BBC Economics Editor, Stephanie Flanders, is now off to work for the US’s largest bank J.P. Morgan. Is this by any chance the same J.P.Morgan managed by Jamie Dimon who met US regulators following investigations into whether they misled investors last week?
The US media reported that they could agree to financial penalties of several billions of dollars to pay back investors who lost money through transactions relating to mortgage-backed securities. Apparently a sticking point in the negotiations over a settlement centres on an admission of wrongdoing, which could open the bank up to a flood of lawsuits.
Is the the same J.P.Morgan that agreed to pay $920m to settle charges relating to the "London Whale" trading scandal? And in 2011, did they not settle similar charges relating to misleading investors about mortgage-backed securities with, the Securities and Exchange Commission? Agreeing to pay $153.6m in June and $296.9m in November.
So buying up Stephs ‘balance’ and PR skills may be a good move.

I see also that after his stroke Andrew Marr is back to smooch politicians. His bias is even more difficult to combat as his history films and books are promoted by the entire BBC machine with its incredible reach as a broadcaster and publisher giving them tremendous authority.  
Now I rarely agree with Charles Moore of the Daily Telegraph but when he wrote that Marr’s History of Modern Britain was, “ignorant and patronising” I had to let out a little cheer.  Its not just that Marr gets his facts wrong, the publishers paid out a "significant sum" in damages to Erin Pizzey after the book mistakenly linked her  to the 1970s terror group the Angry Brigade. Macmillan pulped thousands of copies and issued an “urgent” stock recall notice citing legal reasons.
Pity we cannot issue a similar recall notice for the omission of socialists, trade unions and co-operatives from the Building of Modern Britain. It is bad enough that current left wing ideas and campaigns are ignored by the BBC. Being written out of the future is bad enough but to be air-brushed out of the past is intolerable. Ken Loach was not the only one to find Marr’s defence of Mrs Thatcher’s and the swallowing of her odious ideology as distasteful.
Now Robert Peston, the BBC News’s Business editor, the man who bought down Northern Rock, has decided to give us his history of shopping. This is what Time Out calls history “written by the winners”. There is little or no analysis of the consequences of some of the changes we have seen on the High Street with Peston it is very much in the Marr mould of shaping the facts to fit the story.
Let me just give you a few examples of how by getting the facts wrong he distorts the true history of the period he describes. Firstly his assertion that Marks and Spencer was the first large scale retailer to launch its own brand. The Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) was making own brand products in 1876. Crumpsall Biscuits being the first.
Marks and Spencer’s was not formed until 1894. He suggests that M&S was the first to introduce own branded goods to escape retail price maintenance. The CWS did this far earlier using its Pelaw’s Pharmaceutical Works. In 1906 a group of patent medicine manufacturers decided to boycott co-op stores for paying a dividend on their products, which they saw as a price cut rather than the return of profits to members. The CWS responded by expanding the output from their Pelaw Drug and Dry Saltery Works, founded in 1902, thereby producing their own medicines to fight the boycott. This process was repeated with the famous Defiant Radios in 1933.
Dixons was featured for its innovation as a photographic retailer in the 1960s. The CWS had been selling cameras and photographic supplies to co-operatives through its Manchester, Newcastle, and London operations in the 1920s, and on a national basis from 1931. By 1933 the CWS was producing and marketing its own brand of photographic film.
He also claimed that Sainsbury’s opened Britain’s first self service store in Croydon in 1950. This of course can only be true if you ignore the first purpose built Co-op Self Service store opened by Portsea Island Society in 1948 and that there had been self-service departments within London Society stores even earlier.
The point is that you do not need competition and free markets to generate retail innovation but this does not fit the story so gets ignored. These may appear to be minor errors. But this is part of systematic blind spot on the role of the Co-op in our history. I am dreading the portrayal of the Co-op – or the lack of it in the First World War with next year’s commemorations.
The systematic ignoring of the positive role of trade unions and co-operatives in our past helps to deny us a possible role in the future and needs to be challenged.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Each for All and All for Each

It is one hundred years since William Martin Murphy, owner of the Dublin United Tramway Company and the Irish Independent newspaper sought to purge his companies of Jim Larkin’s ITGWU. Along with virtually all the employers in Dublin he called for workers to give up their unions. They refused and as Irish historian John Dorney says, “Some terms in history are undervalued by overuse, and one of them is ‘class war’, but there could be no other term for the bitter ensuing struggle”.
Workers on this side of the Irish Sea realised what was at stake and sought to help. The TUC agreed to support the Dublin workers, and with the Co-operative Wholesale Society (the CWS) to send food relief.
The CWS took just 48 hours, to load 30,000 food parcels, consisting of 10lbs of potatoes, 1 lb of tinned fish, 2 lbs of sugar, ¾ lbs of margarine, ¾ lbs of tea, and 2 lbs of jam, onto the first ship, the SS Hare.
When the ship arrived in Dublin on 27 September, the union lifted the strike and distributed the rations to 25,000 families.  “A tremendous cheer for co-operation echoed across the Liffey from the meeting on the Sunday afternoon.  For it was realised that it was not trade unionism alone, or co-operation alone; but for once a great common effort of the people.  And of a great common effort the story will be told and re-told, amongst trade unionists and co-operators, this year and for many a year,” reported the Wheatsheaf.
During the Lock Out almost two million loves, 700,000 ten pound bags of potatoes, and half a million packs of margarine, as well as jam, cheese and coal where shipped by the CWS to Dublin.
Co-operation held an important place in the ideology of both Larkin and James Connolly.  Emmet O’Connor suggests that these ideas were embedded in the syndicalist and co-operative movements of the Irish left at that time and part of an attempt to produce a ‘counter-culture’ to the values of British capitalist modernization.

The then assistant editor of the Daily Herald, W. P. Ryan, linked Larkinism with the idea of the Co-operative Commonwealth. He hoped that Larkinism, the co-operative movement of Horace Plunkett together with politico-cultural forces like Sinn Féin, marked a resurgence of the Gaelic primitive communism romanticized by James Connolly in Labour in Irish History.

There is no doubt that Larkin was attracted to the syndicalist idea of underpinning the socialist struggle with a working-class counter-culture based on collectivist values of sharing and solidarity.

Despite the failure of Larkin, and the ITGWU, the Co-operative Movement did not turn its back on Ireland holding the Co-op Congress in Dublin at Whitsuntide, 1914. Big Jim referred to this event when he was made President of the Irish TUC in City Hall on June 1st 1914.

“In this City at the present moment, the annual congress of the British Co-operative Movement is being held. It is attended by men and women from all parts of the earth. It would be news to many to know that we here in Ireland had been pioneers in co-operation long before the Rochdale Pioneers. There had been a communistic colony down at Usher’s Quay, but it was crushed out by jealous and restrictive laws. Like every good thing Ireland ever started, England made it its business to put a stop to it.

The working class of Ireland would be compelled to understand the worth of co-operation. Through its agency we could supply all that life needs by ourselves for ourselves. It needed no argument to favour it. Life itself was co-operation in its truest sense. Man himself was a social animal and lived by co-operation. We had a great opportunity this week to see the in the Co-operative exhibition in the Rotunda what could be done by co-operative methods.”

In a few weeks the world was plunged into World War, a disaster for the working class everywhere, and for the SS Hare which was sunk by a U-Boat in 1917. Retail consumer co-operation was stillborn in Ireland but the co-operative movement proved its worth to the British nation in that war, and was unjustly punished for it, leading to the formation of the Co-operative Party to defend co-operative interests. But that is another story.

The motto of Larkin’s ITGWU ‘Each for All, and All for Each.’ was also the motto of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society.  


Thirty Years of Ethical Trading for Dublin Food Co-op.

 One of my favourite Irish writers is George Bernard Shaw. I have been known to travel long distances to a catch performances of his lesser known plays. He was a staunch vegetarian becoming a convert in his early twenties. He attributed his long life and good health to his vegetarianism. It was not only economical but also aesthetically more satisfying as vegetarianism was an extension of his humanitarianism.  “A man of my spiritual intensity,” he said, “does not eat corpses.” 

Today in Dublin is an Institution celebrating an important milestone that I am sure Shaw would have wholeheartedly approved. A place one can buy all the vegetarian wholefoods one needs for a healthy diet and most of the other things required for the good life.

That place is the Dublin Food Co-op which is celebrating its thirtieth year. It dates back to 1983 when there was a campaign in Ireland to stop the building of a Nuclear Power station in County Wexford. Coming out of that campaign a group of friends came together to save money by bulk buying vegetarian wholefoods and other sustainable products.

Within a short time they where trading weekly from a hired hall at St. Andrew's Resource Centre on Pearse Street  where they remained for more than twenty years.
The Dublin Food Co-operative Society was formally registered as an Industrial and Provident Society in 1991 interestingly the legislation on Co-operatives and Friendly societies predates independence going back as afar as 1893 so Irish and British Co-ops have a common ancestry.  
Long before the rise of farmers' markets in Ireland they pioneered organic and local produce. They soon outgrew Pearse Street and began to look for a new home eventually finding it at 12 Newmarket, near St Patrick’s Cathedral. The new base was formally opened by the Minister for the Environment John Gormley in October 2007 to coincide with Ireland's National Organic Week.
Being a co-op its democratic structure includes a co-ordinating body elected at the annual meeting; the new chair is Niall Haslam, a research scientist, who serves with Eileen Fitzsimons as secretary. There are also various working groups to oversee different aspects of its activities including the protection of its ethics and governance. Much of the work to open and develop the Newmarket site was the volunteer labour of members.

The vast majority of food they sell is organic but they also sell fairtrade and environmentally-friendly produce. Stallholders extend the range to include organic vegetables and fruits, organic cheeses, eggs and dairy, organic wine, baked goods, organic clothing, books and other non-food items. At the end of last year the Co-op had almost 900 members, who receive a 5% discount on purchases, which increases to 15% if they also volunteer on a rota system to help in the co-op.

They operate like a wholefood department store with other like minded small producers trading under the same roof. This strikes me as a very interesting piece of co-operative innovation.
They open Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays and they organise and host many events. The 30th anniversary year has been marked by a series including, co-operative games for kids, a poetry reading, a commemorative walk and a dinner with special guest Pauline Green President of the International Co-operative Alliance.
Doubtless the food at the dinner was excellent the Thursday Café has a very high reputation in Dublin for the quality and variety of its vegetarian dishes.
The Co-op is a vibrant community that goes far beyond food. Surplus funds are used wholly to benefit members by reducing prices and improving services and facilities. 
Driving the Co-op today is General Manager and expatriate Newcastle United supporter (a burden thankfully we do not all have to carry) Norman Rides, a longstanding co-operative champion. Norman joined the Co-op last year and says he is, “looking forward to developing and strengthening the Co-op through increased turnover, membership and influence. Although agricultural co-ops and credit unions are well-established in Ireland, there are very few consumer co-ops so there is not the same social and cultural capital available. In many ways we are writing the manual as we go along.”
In his great play about the relationship between Britain and Ireland, John Bull’s Other Island, Shaw say’s that “An Irishman's heart is nothing but his imagination.”
Thank goodness for those Irish, men and women who had the imagination to see the potential in co-operation and congratulations to thirty years of  the Dublin Food Co-op.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Book Review: Buildings of the Labour Movement by Nick Mansfield Published by English Heritage 2013.

This is an absolutely splendid book. Well written and beautifully illustrated. I first saw it when I visited the Peoples History Museum in Manchester, Nick Mansfield’s old home, he was Director for 21 years. It was irresistible the picture on the cover of the Workers Institute in Cradley Heath drew me in. I have always had a love for the buildings of the British Labour Movement, from Co-op shops to Chartist Cottages, from the Arts and Crafts of the Clarion cafes to the high modernism of the Daily Workers headquarters in Covent Garden.

As Nick points out you would not think there was much to link these structures however deeper research shows “unexpected links, which if pursued, can give a coherent narrative.” In the preface Nick gives credit to Raphael Samuel “the founder of History Workshop and guru of the new public history” who researched the preservation movement in the two fascinating volumes of Theatres of Memory (originally published in 1994 a new edition available from Verso 2012).

Samuel spoke at a Conference at the TUC in 1991 entitled “The Landscape of Labour History”. This lead to English Heritage supporting a leaflet, “Where do you stand? The Landscape of Labour History”, which was widely distributed and introduced a typology of labour movement buildings and the criteria for listing.

For many of our finest labour movement buildings this was already too late. Established architectural historians like Nikolaus Pevsnor studiously ignored these buildings (like sports grounds and stadiums) and even the labour movement itself with the year zero attitude of many in the Labour Party had no interest in saving these magnificent buildings.

I am very hopeful that this book will have the same effect that John Gormans magnificent book Banner Bright (1986) did for labour movement banners. Today Trade Union, Co-operative Society and Socialist banners are considered works of art and if anyone finds and old one in the attic they are rescued and presented as the beautiful artefacts that they are.

Nicks book on Labour Movement Buildings is not the last word, he admits he does not cover Scotland or Wales, and so there is work to be done. There is also the task of filling in the gaps in the narrative and in buildings that Nick has missed.

Nonetheless, with chapters on Trade Societies, Non-conformity, Radicalism, Owenism, Chartism, Co-operation, Trade Unions, Mechanic Institutes` and education, Socialism, the Clarion Movement, The Labour Party , also Nicks speciality the rural labour movement, Ex-servicemen and Commemoration of War, and Holidays and Leisure,  he has  been very comprehensive.

He also includes Buildings Identified with key events that whilst not necessarily built by the movement have had a huge impact on its development. I remember my complete state of shock when exploring Manchester’s radical history when I realised that the Free Trade Hall with its plaque commemorating the Peterloo massacre, was now the frontage of a ghastly modern hotel. He also laments those we have lost, some like the original Holyoake House home of the UK Co-operative Movement, thanks to the Luftwaffe, some thanks to neglect and indifference often from Labour local authorities. In many ways as Nick points out “labour movement buildings continue to be the Cinderella of architectural conservation.”

Nonetheless a start has been made there are some well conserved crucial buildings, like Rosdean, the Chartist Cottgae in Dodford Worcestershire now in the care of the National Trust, The Rochade Pioneers Museum reopened after a mature facelift, The Burston Strike School in Norfolk, and my beloved Cradley Heath Workers Institute now moved brick by brick into the Black Country Museum.

I think this is a very important book. I particularly welcome the fact it has been published by English Heritage. After all England’s heritage belongs as much to workers and their institutions as it does to Kings and Queens and Lords and Ladies.

These buildings are the landscape of our history and we must continue to pressure both English Heritage and the National Trust to take our heritage and our history seriously. Lastly I am sure all of us active in the movement will know of buildings not in this book. My thoughts turned to Leicester’s Secular Hall for example and the other work of the architect Larner Sugden in Leek in Staffordshire.

Maybe English Heritage and Nick could be prevailed upon to create a website where we could document buildings of significance and build campaigns to save the best of them.

Thank you Nick Mansfield for starting this off – buy this book.


Friday, 5 July 2013

Co-op Congress 2013

So we all trooped down to Cardiff, including Richard Baggley, the editor of the Morning Star,  for what should have been a really up beat Co-op Congress.  The venue was great that wonderful Industrial and Provident Society, Glamorgan County Cricket Club and the Swalec Stadium. After all no less than the Financial Times had said that there is a “co-operative revival underway” and all the data is going in the right direction.  The number of co-ops in the UK continues to grow up 4% from last year to 6,169, turnover is up 3.3% to £36.7 billion, memberships up by 13.7% to 15.4 million. A staggering 23% increase in turnover since 2008. So why was the mood of the Congress relatively flat? Sadly it was overshadowed by events at the Co-operative Bank.
The Co-op bank began life in 1872 as the Loan and Deposit Department of the Co-operative Wholesale Society. It lent capital and banked the profits of hundreds of co-operative retail societies across the country. It became the CWS Bank four years later but did not become a registered company until 1971.  In UK law it is not possible for an institution issuing withdraw able shares (like a co-op) to become a bank and many feel this effectively stops there being a genuinely co-operative bank in UK law.
So the obvious solution was to set up the Bank as a plc with only one shareholder the CWS or what is today called the Co-operative Group. When it was run by died in the wool co-operators like Terry Thomas, now Lord Thomas of Macclesfield, the bank built on its strengths of free banking and interest on current accounts to launch an ethical policy in 1992.
It is difficult to overestimate the impact this had in the City, because obviously if the Co-op was the “ethical” bank all the rest where plainly unethical. This partly helps to explain the apparent glee from some that the “ethical bank” has come unstuck.
And into trouble it has most certainly run. Trouble that stems from the merger with the Britannia Building Society that looks in retrospect  more like a reverse takeover. With Neville Richardson of Britannia becoming the CEO of the now united Co-operative Financial Services.
The relationship between the Bank and the Group has always been a little unclear. In the Co-op Group rule book there are only five sentences on the relationship with subsidiaries of which the Bank is one and whilst there is a long list of rules on reporting to members there is nothing about this for subsidiaries.
Now the disaster that has befallen the bank is essentially the result of a relatively small number of commercial property loans that the Britannia entered into. Small in number but not in value there are it seems £1.7 billion of impaired loans.
These bad loans are compounded by the banks low capital ratio which is hard to do anything about because of the low profitability of the combined institution. Also as if this was not enough Britannia had twice the industry average at 10%, of residential property loans that have a loan to value ration of more than 100% i.e. are more than the property is worth.
Now the man we one would have thought was wise to all this activity, Neville Richardson, left the bank with a payoff of some £4.6million. When we add to this the fact the Bank was caught up in the PPI miss-selling saga no wonder members are angry and confused.  If the bank was in this condition why on earth did the Group waste £60 million pursuing branches of Lloyds TSB.
Now the rescue plan is a bit complicated but in short the bank needs to raise £1.5billion of extra capital. The most controversial part of this plan is to swop some of the interest bearing bonds held in the bank into shares that can be listed on the stock exchange. Personally I think this is quite an imaginative idea which exploits the fact that the Bank is a plc. However some think it is the thin end of the wedge of losing control of the bank. For me this has the virtue that the Co-op group avoids having to sell selling other profitable businesses to bail out the Bank.
This sad saga is far from finished.  Some argue that it shows the challenges Co-ops have always had raising capital but I think this is a side issue. This is a problem of governance.  Paul Flowers who was chair of Banking Group has “stepped down” but more heads will need to roll if the anger of members at this debacle at what was the Jewel in Crown of UK co-operation is to be assuaged.
And once stabilised we need to be reassured that these new bankers who have been called into re-right the ship will be accountable to members and have co-operative values and principles running through everything they do.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

THE ILP @ 120

Today our parliamentary democracy looks like it has failed. We feel that the elite leaderships do not represent people like “us” this is sadly not a new phenomenon and was abroad a hundred and twenty years ago when delegates came together in Bradford to form a new party to seek parliamentary representation for workers.

Amongst their number where some of the giants of the early labour movement, Ben Tillet, Robert Blatchford, Bernard Shaw, Pete Curran and Keir Hardie then MP for West Ham who was elected chair. Once born the Independent Labour Party with its strong ethical concerns set about in William Morris’s famous phrase to ‘make socialists’.

It saw creating a new political culture as the first stage in building a new society. To do this it had to open up some political space in which to operate. Like other young movements for emancipation this space was not to be found in the narrow way ‘politics’ was usually defined.
To create a socialist political culture they had to create spaces in which people could be “socialists”.  As well as publishing newspapers and taking to the streets, they established premises where they could meet, hear speakers, debate, share literature and learn. There was a great deal of self education but it was not just worthy activity they also set out to have a good time.
Good fellowship was the foundation of their politics. Many ILP branches set up their own venues and developed vibrant communities around them.
Often these activities where complimented by the Clarion movement. Founded by Robert Blachford in 1891, the Clarion reached a circulation of between 30 and 40,000 a month with its popular journalism. With all sorts of Clarion activities, including cycling and rambling, choirs and drama groups, whilst Blatchfords personal politics was an odd mixture his editorship of the Clarion bought a lot of joy into working class lives, introducing a sense of fun and freedom whilst in the process creating ten of thousands of socialists.
One example of this type of venue was formed by the Nelson Branch of the ILP. Founded in 1893for many years the focal point of their activities was the Labour Party Institute and Socialist Sunday School in Vernon Street, Nelson.  There where attempts to make fresh air and the countryside accessible to their members and a practice of acquiring Clarion houses in rural areas as retreats from the mills and factories developed.

Like Ewan MacColl’s Manchester Rambler, the workers of Nelson “may have been wage slaves on Monday but they where free men on Sunday”. They first established a Clarion House in 1899 and when this become too small they obtained another in 1903.

The current, yes current, Clarion House was inaugurated in 1912. It is located in Jinney Lane, Newchurch-in-Pendle, deep in Pendle Witch country, the historic towns of Colne, Clitheroe and Whalley are all within walking distance.

Nelson Clarion House celebrated its centenary last year safely in the ownership of the Nelson Independent Labour Party Land Society. Broadly committed to the principles of their ILP predecessors they describe their politics as “somewhat to the left of Old Labour”.

Their objective is to preserve for public benefit the Clarion House with one and half acres of land, tea rooms, wildlife corridor, pond and adventure playground.  It is maintained as a co-operative with any surplus to be used for the spreading of socialism. 

It is great that Nelson Clarion House is still carrying out the function that it was first opened over a century ago. It is also a lesson to us that socialism is about much more than shorter hours or higher pay. Tackling the alienation that is intrinsic to capitalism is a vital part of any socialist future.

One of the inspirations of the early socialists was the American poet Walt Whitman who greatly influenced people like Edward Carpenter and Robert Blachford as well as Irish co-operator Horace Plunkett.

In his essay Democratic Vistas written in 1871, he said, “Did you, too, O friend, suppose democracy was only for elections, for politics, and for a party name? I say democracy is only of use there that it may pass on and come to its flower and fruit in manners, in the highest forms of interaction between [people], and their beliefs -- in religion, literature, colleges and schools -- democracy in all public and private life....”

Today democracy has only scratched the surface of our lives and as a consequence has been easily subverted by capital. We need a deeper democracy based on equality and mutual respect. Those early ILPers and Clarion Socialists are still pointing the way to the future setting us the task of making our relationships one with another and our relationship with the environment truly democratic unmediated by the market. Showing us a land in which we can live, work and even play together in peace.

You too can still visit Nelson Clarion House see: www.clarionhouse.org.uk

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Capitalism in Football is Not Working!

Just days after relegation from the League Aldershot Town went into administration, formed following the demise of the old club in 1992, they had been back in the League just five years. Having failed to pay their April wage bill they became the 159th insolvency since 1992 in English football.

Amazingly since the Premier League was founded with the break away from the Football League in 1992 there have been seventy cases of insolvency in the top four tiers of English football – out of a maximum at any one time of just ninety-two businesses.

Insolvency is usually a business trading beyond its means which on this scale would normally attract the attention of legislators and regulators. Here we have a whole sector leaving an enormous trail of un-paid bills, wages, and taxes behind it.

The thing that seems to be the cause of this is the debt clubs are allowed to pile up.  At their most profligate, in the period from the 2001/02 season to the 2005/06 season, between them the 92 top-flight English clubs managed to clock up a staggering billion pounds in pre-tax losses.

These clubs often owned by wealthy individuals are involved in a reckless gamble to get rich that usually fails and results in the asset stripping of long standing community assets. Insolvent clubs are then bought from receivers for a song by rich individuals they splurge on debt end up bust and the cycle starts all over again.

There is an alternative to this wasteful business model, the European Cup showed the way, all four semi-finalists were fan owned clubs. Today many in the English game are looking at the Budesliga with its 50% plus one ownership rule as the future model for British football and where a club has not become insolvent for 42 years.

There is some hope that clubs and perhaps more importantly banks are beginning to see sense. Despite its terrible performances on the pitch, relegation to Division 2, the season was one of real achievement for Pompey. More specifically for the Pompey Supporters Trust, who became the owners of the club making it the largest club so far in complete fan ownership, this could be the turning point that those of us who support the co-operative football ownership model have been waiting for.  

The problems we have seen is that this option only gets serious attention when clubs are either in dire straits or in a few cases like FC United of Manchester or the new Northwich FC are in business terms start-up’s.
One of the few things to come out of the Blair Governments time in office of any value was Supporters Direct from the Football Taskforce. It is now working with over 180 supporters trusts’ with over 300,000 members, promoting fan ownership. There are now over 30 clubs owned by their supporters including AFC Wimbledon, Exeter City, AFC Telford, Wrexham, Wycombe Wanderers and now Portsmouth.
Despite the fact that many clubs are at a low ebb before turning to their fans this season we have seen some remarkable on the pitch performances. Wrexham became the very first Welsh team to win the FA Trophy after a thrilling penalty shoot out at Wembley.  Darlington became Northern League Champions having risen from the ashes, taking the League by storm, winning 40 of their 46 games, scoring 145 goals in the process and amassing 122 points, with over 2,000 supporters in attendance for their final game of the season at 'home' to Guisborough Town to celebrate promotion and see the trophy presented.
Also up north Scarborough Athletic became champions of the Northern Counties East League Premier Division. They have been on a steady climb from the Premier Division since gaining promotion from Division One of the League in 2008/2009. Currently playing nearly 20 miles away in Bridlington, they are working towards a return to the Borough.
Also Chester FC after only three years in fan ownership had silverware to parade as winners of the Conference North and the Cheshire Senior Cup. In the league they scored 103 goals and lost only three games.
Sadly for many peoples favourite fan owned club, FC United of Manchester, it was third time unlucky as they lost the Evo-Stik Premier Division play-off final 2-1 away to Hednesford Town in a closely fought match.
Fan owned clubs will come together at the F.A.’s National Football Centre St Georges Park for the inaugural Community Club Network Conference on Saturday 22nd June. Clubs that are majority owned by their supporters will have workshops to share knowledge and discuss ways to promote their shared values for mutual benefit.
Star turns are Swansea City FC and US Community Owned American Football Team the Green Bay Packers. Swansea has had a great season playing cracking football and lifting their first major trophy, the League Cup, they are standout examples of fan-involvement in UK football.
The way out of boom and bust in modern football has to be fan ownership but more fans need to understand the financial and legal tools needed to turn this kind of dream into reality. What is more bankers need to get wise to the fact that the fans are the true sponsors and funders of football. It may be a while yet before we see an English equivalent to Barcelona or Bayern Munich but that that day is drawing closer.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

A Small Allotment of Freedom

I was delighted when the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardner’s joined Co-ops UK. They have been around since 1901 and as a bone fide Industrial and Provident Society have long been a co-operative.

Allotments hold a special place in working class culture and whilst there is no typical allotment holder or allotment site, nonetheless they have produced an instantly recognisable landscape. Interestingly, in their seminal book, now sadly out of print, The Allotment, its landscape and culture, (Five Leaves 1997) David Crouch and Colin Ward argue that the allotment began as a moral landscape with rules that promoted almost in a parody of William Morris 'useful toil'.

They say that the allotment was adapted over time to provide individual space away from the home and a means of escape from 'real' life. Today it remains a sociologist’s dream space and is important as a place where a range of significant social activities, attachments and cultural encounters take place.

We are seeing a huge upsurge in demand for allotments. There are around 300,000 allotments in the UK and it is said that there is a new breed of young professionals who are seeking to “grow their own” who are untypical but as Crouch and Ward point out in over 150 years there has never been a typical allotment gardener.

There are more young professionals, families and groups embracing allotment culture, and demand has outstripped supply in many parts of the country with long waiting lists. In 2009 the National Trust pledged to create a thousand new allotments on its land and they where soon snapped up.

We can date the development of the modern allotments movement back to the great Enclosures Acts of the 1836 and 1840 which deprived many working class people of access to the land. The General Enclosures Act of 1845, following a degree of popular unrest, introduced the idea of “field gardens” for the landless poor but whilst hundreds of thousand of acres of land was enclosed only a couple of thousand was set aside for such use.
It was not until 1887 that local authorities where obliged to provide allotments but this was uneven in its application. It was the Smallholding and Allotment Act 1907 that imposed responsibilities on parish, urban district and borough councils to provide allotments and further legislation in 1908 consolidated this position.
For the late Victorians allotments were thought of as productive use of time for the working poor taking them away from the demon drink. They where also thought of as a way of providing wholesome food for a workforce housed in high density gardenless housing.
It was the German U-boats in the First World War that cemented the allotment into popular culture the blockade cut off supplies of many products and workers took to the allotment as a way of filling the gap, interestingly the “Dig for Victory campaign in World War Two was based on the same principle.

During the War many railway companies released land to their workers for allotments and this is why many allotment sites are next to railways to this day.

After the war there was a steady decline in the number of allotments but in recent years this decline has stabilised and in parts of the country we have seen a growth in allotment numbers.

Allotments have always been good for physical as well as mental health. They are obviously a space for recreation, for exercise, but are also a space for contemplation and solitude. Of course, whilst hard work, for many poor people the chance of growing one's own food was a great boon. Today when we are so alienated from the natural world and most of our food comes shrink wrapped there is almost something spiritual about growing something you can eat yourself.
Allotments and urban agriculture projects often offer an opportunity for excluded groups to participate in gardening and horticulture and can contribute to a sense of self as well as a sense of community.
An allotment is defined as an area of land, leased either from a private or local authority landlord, for the use of growing fruit and vegetables. In some cases this land will also be used for the growing of ornamental plants, and the keeping of hens, rabbits and bees.
Rods, poles and perches are Anglo-Saxon names for the same unit of measurement (1 rod equals five and half yards). An allotment is traditionally measured in this way and ten poles is the accepted size of an allotment, about the size of a doubles tennis court. Never has such a small parcel of land carried so much cultural significance and added so much to our countries wellbeing.
For more information go to: www.nsalg.org.uk

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Time to Look Again at the Co-operative Option

A piece I wrote for Chartist 

It is admittedly from a low base but it is a fact that since the great crash of 2008 the co-operative economy in the UK has grown by 19.6% to £35.6 billion, the number of individual co-operative enterprises has grown by 23% and the number of members in co-ops has reached 13.5 million (4.5 million more than all the individual shareholders).

Internationally too the sector is in rude healthy with over a billion people members of co-ops employing over 100 million people more than all the transnational businesses added together and the world’s top 300 co-ops have a US$2trillion turnover.

So why is the sector still so invisible here in the UK?  I believe this is for two reasons, people felt following the demutualisations of the eighties that it was a historical thing (interestingly none of the demutualised building societies have survived as stand alone mortgage banks) and secondly because in the public mind the sector is almost exclusively identified with co-op shops which where disappearing and only now are clawing their way back through mergers and acquisitions.

It may seem odd but in the first half of the nineteenth century as Britain was undergoing the industrial revolution it was unclear which model of business governance would dominate this new economy. People are familiar with Robert Owen who was a huge influence on the early co-operative movement but more important, in developing co-operative theory was Irishman William Thompson (1775-1833).

Thompson coined the word competitive to describe the system we now have. His An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth Most Conducive to Human Happiness; applied to the Newly Proposed System of Voluntary Equality of Wealth, (1824) was an important contribution to the political-economy of co-operation. Thompson debated with J.S.Mill in the 1820’s as Mill too became convinced that the co-operative was the ideal business form. In his Principles of Political Economy (1852) he wrote,

“The form of association…which if mankind continues to improve, must be expected, in the end to predominate is not that which can exist between a capitalist as chief and work-people without a voice in the management, but the association of the labourers themselves on terms of equality, collectively owning the capital with which they carry on their operations and working under managers elected and removable by themselves.” 

Up to the end of the century it looked a no-brainer that co-operation would win out over wasteful capitalism. In 1899 Alfred Marshall, the founder of the Cambridge school of neoclassical economics, wrote in his essay on Co-operation, that in a co-operative, “the worker does not produce for others but for himself, which unleashes an enormous capacity for diligent, high quality work that capitalism suppresses. There is one ruined product in the history of the world, so much greater than all the others that it can truly be called the ‘wasted product’ – the best working capacities of the labouring classes.”

So how come for a hundred year’s co-operation vanished from economic text-books and as a consequence from our economic life? Pami Kalmi of the Helinski School of Economics has documented this disappearance.

He has shown that before World War I co-operation had a fair shake there was extensive discussion of co-ops, with theoretical insights and a careful examination of existing co-operative forms.   He pins the change on two things a move from an institutional approach ie from actually existing firms and co-ops to the more theoretical idealised neo-classical model, and to the increased role of the state which meant that all the social problems fell to the government with economists offering top-down solutions based on idealised abstract market solutions.

The current problems we face is that markets are an over simplified abstract idea which in the real world only work for short periods as a means of allocating resources. We only have to look at the multiple crises in banking, housing, energy, jobs, health and social care, transport and even in food supply, all due in their own way to market failure of the current capitalist model.

Yet the solutions to these crises offered by both government and opposition are almost invariably more top down, more market, and more competition!  It seems that those bought up and educated in the current period believe that the thing they want, “the market” offering consumer choice and a rational distribution of resources can only achieved in a capitalistic system.  But the market economy arose centuries before capitalism and the idea that capitalism and the market are synonymous is completely unfounded.

It is this inability to even imagine a co-operative alternative amongst economists, policy makers and politicians that is both holding back the development of the co-operative economy but more importantly doing immense damage to our national economy.

After all has any model been taken more in vain in the last couple of years than the “John Lewis Model”? This has become one of those Humpty Dumpty phrases from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean.” Talking about “mutuals” without any understanding of them is spreading distrust.

No wonder trade unionists see the “mutualisation” of public services as mere privatisation. Some of this failure to connect is the fault of us in the co-operative sector who seem to relish making co-op structures as complex as possible (although when you look at them in details share holder businesses too can be pretty complex).

In a neo-liberal binary world of public or private the very idea of a private business that is owned and controlled democratically by its members and that enters the market for social ends just does not fit into this world view. No wonder they have been successfully eradicated from economic textbooks.   

The fact that in some circumstances co-operatives can be more efficient, innovative or indeed more profitable than shareholder businesses is impossible for them to imagine.

If we look at the best examples of co-operatives around the world in energy, in social care, in food supply in housing and even in financial services many of the solutions to our current predicament are staring us in the face if we could only see them.

This is why Ed Mayo secretary General of Co-operatives UK has called for a National Co-operation Policy. Put simply to promote co-operation and co-operative solutions within and between enterprises and enterprises and individuals when it adds value. There are good examples of this approach from countries as diverse as Denmark, Germany, Italy and France.

Some of this ignorance about co-operative forms is the fault of the movement itself and this is also why the theme this year for Co-operative Fortnight, the movements’ outward facing celebration of all things co-operative is the “co-operative option.” We have set ourselves the challenge of persuading accountants and lawyers’ business advisers and bank managers anyone who advises start up businesses that there is always the co-operative option.

We have a lot to do but as John Stuart Mill argued “we may through the co-operative principle, see our way to a change in society which would combine the freedom and independence of the individual, with the moral, intellectual and economic advantages of aggregate production.”

Monday, 13 May 2013

Raising a Glass to Co-op Wine

If I had a favourite type of co-op near the top of the list would be those called caves cooperatives in France, cantina sociale in Italy and winzergenossenschaft in Germany. I am sure those of you who like me enjoy a drop and want to be ideologically sound in our choices have already worked this one out  - they are winemaking co-operative’s.

These splendid organisations allow small scale growers to pool resources and benefit from economies of scale. Small scale growers often lack the resources to build wineries, to invest in technology or marketing but get enough of them together and they can compete with the big boys. Every wine growing region in the world has some co-operative presence and some are dominated by co-operatives.

The worlds largest wine producing region is the Spanish region of La Mancha it was in the 1940’s that the growers here started joining together to get better prices for their grapes. Today almost 400,000 hectares of grapes are grown in the region 70% of which supply 130 co-ops.  Some people think that co-operatives only produce tank wine for blending or for distillation but here Cooperativa Virgen de Las Vinas, the largest cooperative in Europe with 2,445 members, recently won the Bacchus de Oro Prize for its 2004 Tomillar Reserva proving that even large co-ops can produce world class wine.

Over half of all French wine is produced by co-operatives and this too is not all Vin de Pays. There is an interesting struggle going on in the Champagne region between the large Champagne Houses and the co-operatives. The so called grand marques depend on the co-operatives for their grapes and although they dominate global sales they only control about 10% of the regions vineyards. Big brands like Moët & Chandon, Dom Pérignon, Veuve Clicquot and Krug could not sustain their sales without the input of co-operative producers.

There has however in a gradual shift in the proportion of the wine being sold directly into the market by the co-operatives bypassing the grand marques. What is more the bigger co-ops have been leaders in innovation developing interesting new products it is clear therefore that the co-operatives own brands will have a bigger share of the market in the years to come.

If you are a Bollinger Boshevik you may have seen the largest co-op own brand champagnes examples include Pannier, Raoul Collet and Veuve Devaux and they are often cheaper and just as good if not better than the more well known brands hardly surprising when they are made with the very same grapes.

One of my other personal favourites when it comes to the world of co-operative winemaking is La Riojana Co-operative in Argentina.  Its roots too go right back to the 1940’s, when Italian immigrants, most of whom were active wine growers back home, decided to build a small bodega and to buy grapes to make wine. Shortly afterwards they began planting vineyards in La Rioja province, in northwest Argentina.

Today several hundred families are involved in producing grapes for La Riojana co-operative and have helped to make it not only one of the largest and most successful co-operatives in Argentina but with annual production of around 4 million cases of wine, the world’s largest producer of certified Fairtrade-organic wine.
With over 500 members, mostly small-scale producers, many the children of the founder members continue the family tradition of producing grapes for the co-operative.
Their flagship wine is a delicious fair-trade organic Gran Reserva Malbec sold around the UK under the own brand of the co-operative group and is available from their stores. Having wet your appetite for co-op wines where can I get them from I hear you say. Well this month I received a truly co-operative offer from Britain’s very best wine club.
The Wine Society the world’s only co-operative wine merchant owned by and only trading with its members has a splendid offer called good co-operation, which is a free bottle with every order of a case from anyone of seventeen co-operatives around the world. For value for money as a co-operative wine merchant the Wine Society is outstanding with its paramount task the pleasure of the members. Not only do they supply the world’s best wine it is remarkably competitively priced.
This selection of co-op reds from Spain, France and Italy and whites from South Africa, France, Italy, Portugal and Germany also includes a co-operative non-vintage champagne, Le Brun de Neuville. To purchase these splendid wines you have to be a member but I have to say this is one of the best co-ops we have ever joined.
Never has co-op principle six, co-operation among co-operatives, been more pleasurable.
For more information go to: www.thewinesociety.com