Ed Mayo: We need action to break up the big beasts of the corporate world

Click to follow
The Independent Online

When the credit crunch first hit, many people felt like bewildered observers. As the implications for national debt, public services and pensions become clear, it is evident we have been mugged by the capital markets.

However, the aftermath of the economic crash has been characterised by astonishingly little real discussion about how markets should operate. An example of missing debate is on the growing trend of bigger business.

Six companies in the energy market, five in mortgages, four in mobile phones, four in retail, two in payment systems, one in online advertising search... in each case, a handful of companies control around 70 per cent or more of UK sales.

We need to break up the big beasts where experience has shown that they can't be trusted to behave responsibly. Banking is the first case for action, not the only one.

There are though some reasons to be optimistic. When we look at how Britain is responding to the credit crunch, strong signs of co-operation are evident.

Around the world, there has been a rush to trust in terms of savers switching to financial co-operatives and the UK is no exception. A total of 4,820 co-operative businesses in the UK are flourishing with a turnover of £28.9bn and 11.3 million members. As well as diversity in our economy we need co-operation. The central economic and societal challenges we face are all ones that require co-operation. My argument is not that every business should be a co-operative but that every business would benefit by being more co-operative.

There is a growing recognition of what makes for business excellence – engaging your staff, giving your customers a say, being open to ideas of innovation and ensuring less social and environmental harm. There is good practice on some or other of these elements in many a workplace, but taken together and in full, these are what a co-operative is.

From small to large, co-operatives like the Phone Coop, Glasgow City Credit Union and the Co-operative Group are competing by working "with" rather than "against" those around them. The time is right for a new agenda of co-operation.

An extract from a speech by the new Secretary General of Co-operatives UK