How more co-operatives could have helped avoid Brexit - Co-op boss Steve Murrells

One of the reasons for the Brexit vote was people in the regions feeling a sense of disconnect between themselves and decision makers in Whitehall, according to the boss of the Co-operative Group.

Steve Murrells, CEO of Co-op. Picture: James Hardisty.
Steve Murrells, CEO of Co-op. Picture: James Hardisty.

Steve Murrells, CEO of the Co-operative Group, believes that the vote to leave the European Union could have been avoided if there were more co-operatives and social enterprises, putting back into communities.

Mr Murrells told The Yorkshire Post: “At a time when there is real division, the country needs more co-ops and it needs more collaboration.

“It needs organisations that are encouraged to and able to put more back in than they take out.”

The original founders of the Co-operative movement.

The boss of Co-op added that in trying to answer a binary question between leave and remain there was a lack of understanding of the complexities involved in uncoupling from the EU.

He said: “History will define the reasons why people voted in the way that they did but I think at the time it was clear that the fabric of our society and the connectivity between all regions was starting to get stressed. What was affecting people locally in the North wasn’t being recognised by Whitehall and Government.”

Mr Murrells says that in many cases people used the vote to voice their frustrations that decision makers were losing touch with communities up and down the country.

He added: “As things have moved on over these last three years, those problems that were starting three years ago have now got considerably worse.

Steve Murrells, CEO of Co-op. Picture: James Hardisty.

“One of the solutions is having more social enterprises and more co-ops to run business in a different way. We’re not the sole solution but we’re one of the things that can help make a difference.”

Mr Murrells welcomed more devolution to the regions.

“I do think that working more collaboratively on a local basis in each region with the people on the ground and linking into the metro mayors is how towns, villages and cities will develop,” Mr Murrells said.

The CEO of the Co-op Group was in Yorkshire to visit causes that its Local Community Fund has supported such as Hyde Park Picture House.

Since 2016, the Co-operative Group’s membership in Yorkshire has grown from 817,246 to 1,016,382.

In the face of austerity, the work of cooperatives and social enterprises in the community has never been more important, according to Mr Murrells.

He said: “If ever there was a need for the co-op way to make a real difference for small local causes it is now. On average, across the 4,000 causes that we’re currently supporting, we’ll give them back £5,000 a year.

“In many cases that means they can carry on. Without it, many of those small causes would struggle, given the years of cuts and austerity.

“This is a brilliant example where the Co-op does make a real difference on the ground and is propping up some great causes locally.

“This isn’t a corporate social programme. This is what a co-op does and no one else can do this.”

The Co-op says it is preparing for the worst case scenario regarding Brexit and that “clearly” a deal would be better for the UK.

It has already started planning contingencies in the event Britain crashes out without a deal.

“We’ve been planning with our suppliers for many months,” Mr Murrells said.

The key issue for retailers is the movement of goods at ports and borders. Mr Murrells says produce such as fresh fruit from Southern hemisphere coming into this country could be affected.