By Daniel Hunter

The UK’s co-operative economy has outperformed the UK economy for the fourth consecutive year, with a growth of 1.5% in 2011 compared with 0.7% in the UK economy, twice the rate of the UK economy.

Annual figures released by Co-operatives UK, the trade body for co-operative businesses, show that while the real level of GDP in the UK in 2011 is 1.7% lower than in 2008, the turnover of the co-operative sector has grown by 19.5% over the same period.

The co-operative economy 2012 - alternatives to austerity details how a member-owned economy with a turnover of £35.6bn, has experienced an 8.9% rise in the number of co-operative enterprises from 5,450 in 2010 to 5,933 in 2011 and a 5.5% rise in the number of memberships from 12.8m in 2010 to 13.5m in 2011.

Retail (71.7%), agriculture (11.4%) financial services (6.2%) remain the dominant parts of the co-operative sector by turnover and co-operatives owned by consumers comprise (96%) of the co-operative economy’s value.

This annual report on the state of the sector is another clear indication that sharing ownership and control with members not shareholders and serving society and the environment alongside the pursuit of profit is a resilient and successful business strategy.

The largest co-operatives in 2011 include The Co-operative Group, John Lewis Partnership, Midlands Co-operative Society and United Merchants, the UK’s largest merchant co-operative and invoice clearing house for the building products industry with a turnover in excess of £850 million.

Areas seeing the largest growth include, renewable energy co-operatives that provide power, profits and strength to communities and the 242 co-operative schools now owned and controlled by communities, teachers, parents and pupils across the country.

“This is good news for business and for our new emerging economy," Ed Mayo, Secretary General, Co-operatives UK, said.

"At a time where our economic system is undergoing fundamental change and critical analysis as to its suitability for the future, this is evidence that broadening ownership and control, prioritizing social and environmental impact alongside profit is a resilient alternative to austerity.

“Co-operative businesses are more resilient, 98% are still in operation after three years compared to 65% of all businesses, over half of them (56%) are in disadvantaged areas in the UK and 88% seek to minimize their environmental impact when 44% of businesses say they have taken no action whatsoever.”

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