After a recent at meeting at Co-ops UK we where chatting about who should be co-op of the year. I said my nomination would go to the Channel Islands Co-operative (CIC) Society. Founded in Jersey in 1919 having survived the occupation it is a credit to the movement and shows how co-ops can genuinely support the communities which they serve.
With 34 percent market share the CIC is the biggest retailer in the islands. That dominance has to be won everyday and it has never rested on its laurels. With a finite customer base it has always sought out new ways in which it can bring value to its members.
In some ways the people of the Channel Islands (population 165,000) and the CIC (membership 120,000) are one and the same as almost the entire adult population are members of the society. That relationship has been consolidated in the last three years as it has paid out over £8 million per year in dividends to its members.
Clearly there are limits to growth in any one business in such an enclosed economy so CIC has an amazing breadth. Its £160 million turnover came from food, furnishings and leisure retailing, travel services to both individuals and businesses, the provision of financial services to its Members, the sale of petrol, Post Office services, funerals and pharmacy.
So pretty much every consumer service you would need is provided by in twenty seven different stores across the islands. Apart from the quality of service and the tremendous member dividend, it is integral to island life, employing a thousand people, spending over £11m on local produce each year and £200,000 supporting local good causes.
It has not all been plain sailing whilst the type of competition they face is different to the mainland there is still stiff competition particularly in food but also on other products. They are not immune to the arrival of internet shopping. So they have had to take some tough calls on reducing costs in wharehousing.
Making the decision to end their local wharehousing facility and rely on the mainland proved to be real test of their democracy. With over seven hundred people packing the egm to discus the issue before it was finally agreed
Their latest move to support members however is quite extraordinary. This is their move into medical services. In the Channel Islands there is a patchwork medical service a mixture of subsidy from the different islands, Jersey and Guernsey Governments and private insurance schemes. Basically you are charged every time you visit your GP and as doctors practices are private businesses the fees charged vary tremendously with them being free to charge what they wish.
Colin Mcleod CEO of CIC says, “I have been asked about the rationale behind our decision to offer a new, more affordable GP service and the answer is really very simple: we have listened to our members. They would like their healthcare to be more affordable, transparent and easily accessible. A survey conducted by the Jersey Consumer Council showed us that a lot of islanders felt the same way.”
Co-operative Medical Care, which consists of three GP practices, spread across Jersey, is focused on helping islanders pay less for high quality healthcare, particularly families with young children. A standard consultation fee is £30, and Society members will receive free healthcare for children under five and lower prices for children aged five to 18.
To form Co-operative Medical Care, CIC has bought two established GP practices. Four doctors, a practice nurse and eight existing surgery staff are now employed by the Society which plans to engage more healthcare professionals as demand for the service increases.
As Co-operative Medical Care is owned by Society members, rather than GP partners, profits will be shared by members in the form of and 4% dividend on healthcare services. Since launching in November, Co-operative Medical Care has attracted almost 600 new patients with growth exceeding expectations. To support the strong uptake, two new doctors have joined the practice.Phil Romeril, Head of Healthcare at CIC, said, ‘We are very pleased that there has been such a positive response to Co-operative Medical Care. It was always our intention to grow if the demand was there.”
It maybe surprising to get a divi from a visit to the doctors but this Co-op is taking primary care out of the private sector and bringing it into social ownership. This co-op has done something that Aneurin Bevan failed to do that is turn GP’s into employees instead of businesses. To say this has stirred up GP services on the island is an understatement.
The lesson from Jersey could be a look to the past or a pointer to the future maybe it is something we may need to do here on the mainland. What happens on May 7th could well be the decider in that.