So, as mentioned in the last section, there are a number of ways consumers may get a better purchasing deal. If this is so, why choose a Co-op. In fact what is a Co-op and what does it have to offer that other ways of saving cash don’t.
In the UK, indeed the world, Co-ops come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and there is no, single, legal status they all share. That said, they have something else and, in my view, something much, much better. They have shared values.
These values aren’t the kind that are hinted at, or obscure. They are up there on the International Co-operative Alliance Website and subscribed to by 800 Million members through their membership of Co-operative bodies, worldwide. The UN reckons “in 1994 that the livelihood of nearly 3 billion people, or half of the world's population, was made secure by co-operative enterprise”. So what are these mutual values. They are: 1. Open and Voluntary Membership 2. Democratic Member Control 3. Member Economic Participation 4. Autonomy and Independence 5. Education, Training and Information 6. Co-operation among Co-operatives 7. Concern for their Communities
Why not visit the website now and find out what 800 M people have in common! When you say the word ‘Co-op’ or ‘Co-operative’ most people will have a sense of what that means, without realising, perhaps, that it means so much. Some people will have baggage about the terms too. For some of that will be negative e.g. Tony Benn’s failed Meriden Motorcycle Co-operative experiment#, but for some that will more favourable e.g the famous Rochdale Pioneers# or the Mondragon Co-operatives# of the Basque Country.
The key point amongst all this co-operative context is that ‘Co-op’ is a brand. Its a huge international brand affecting the lives of many hundreds of millions. What’s not to like! There are a number of oil buying concerns out there, on the other hand, who purport to be working for communities, but their lack of business transparency, should make people feel wary. If you are already part of a community buying group ask how the service is paid for. Many buying groups are providing a voluntary service. Others are finding ways to make it pay for itself, including the hard work of running it. If your buying group or syndicate can’t or won’t tell you about the flow of money in your group or syndicate, then its time to think again.
With a Co-op you are getting into a brand, with values.
If you find you are dealing with a buying group or syndicate calling itself a Co-op, how can you check it’s co-operative credentials?
Questions to ask: "Can I see the constitution/registration document/Members Handbook?"
"Can I see the financial statement?"
"What are the terms of membership?"
"What am I joining? etc, etc."
Reluctance to share is a bad sign. However some buying groups have been set up on a shoestring and may not yet have relevant behind-the -scenes bits and bobs in order. If you read this guide, you’ll be in a good position to help.