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Co-operative business support

There is growing interest among business leaders and communities in creating fairer, purpose-led, more democratic businesses. Co-operatives increase prosperity and equity, creating better opportunities for everyone and spreading the benefits of economic success more evenly. Learn how Co-operative Development Scotland can help you do this.

What is a co-operative?

Co-operative businesses are democratically run organisations owned and controlled by their members to meet their needs. They are strong, diverse and stable businesses that create shared wealth that put people and place on an equal footing to profit.

Membership can be made up of employees, customers, community residents and other business, such as suppliers or partners, who all have an interest and a voice in running the co-operative.

To be recognised as a co-operative, a business should follow seven key principles, outlined by the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA). These are:

  • Voluntary and Open Membership
  • Democratic Member Control
  • Member Economic Participation
  • Autonomy and Independence
  • Education, Training, and Information
  • Cooperation among Cooperatives
  • Concern for Community

Learn more about co-operative identity, values and principles on the ICA website opens in a new window  

Types of co-operative business model

Community co-operatives are set up to provide services to communities or develop a community business in all sectors, from utilities to distilleries. The model helps communities protect essential public services and develop new opportunities that provide wider economic, social and environmental benefits. 

Community co-ops are businesses which trade primarily for the benefit of their community and are accountable to that community. They're controlled by the communities themselves, with open and voluntary membership. They encourage people to get involved – either by becoming a member or by volunteering time.

Investment can be raised from individuals who, as owners, are involved in decision making. The profits can then be invested back into community projects or distributed among members, generating positive local impact.

Businesses that collaborate and work together can successfully raise their profile, access bigger contracts, innovate and enter new and existing markets. This allows smaller businesses to scale while reducing the risks associated with growth.

Consortium co-operatives are established when groups, which can consist of businesses including sole traders and social enterprises as well as public sector partners, come together to pool their resources. They are run on an equal basis for their members, and may be used for buying, selling, marketing, sharing facilities or joint bidding for contracts. 

Consortium co-ops can help smaller businesses achieve scale, increasing their scope while keeping their independence and reducing risk.

Platform co-operatives are democratically owned and controlled businesses that use an online platform or app to trade.

A platform co-op is built on co-operative principles and values that ensure the business truly responds to the needs of its community and embeds equity from day one. This co-op model also keeps control away from external, profit-driven investors. 

Working as a co-op puts the power, profits and control in the hands of the people providing the service and, in some cases, the service users too.

Worker co-operatives are businesses owned and run by a collective of workers. Each worker has an equal say in what the business does, and an equitable share in the wealth created from the products and services they provide.

Employee ownership is a model where employees — rather than external shareholders — hold the majority of shares in the business.

Employee-owned businesses can also operate as co-operatives.

Learn more about employee ownership

How Co-operative Development Scotland can help

Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS), acts on behalf of all Scotland’s Enterprise agencies (Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and South of Scotland Enterprise). We can offer advice to help you choose and implement the best co-operative business model for your organisation or community.

We also collaborate with key partners such as Co-ops UK, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, South of Scotland Enterprise, Community Shares Scotland and the Plunket Foundation to help improve understanding of co-ops and to develop a strong support landscape.

What kind of support is available?

We support businesses and communities looking to adopt or develop their co-operative business model by offering advice on feasibility, structure, governance, member engagement and providing the necessary legal documents.

We support both start-up and existing co-operatives. 

If you're looking to start up a new co-operative, we can help you with:

  • Business planning and feasibility
  • Advice on models and legal structures
  • Advice on governance, management, funding and other issues for the new entity
  • Support the formation of an appropriate legal entity
  • Working alongside and signposting you (where appropriate) to other key support organisations

If you need support with an existing co-op, we can help you with:

  • Governance and legal structure review
  • Implementation of new governance and/or structure
  • Securing funding
  • Refreshing your strategy
  • A co-op 'health-check' and action planning

Learn more with our video guide

Find out more about co-operatives and the support available to help you get started with our inclusive business model video series.

Watch video guides

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Got a question?

Are you looking to start a new co-operative or develop an existing one? Contact us to find out how we can help.

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Co-operative business case studies