Fifty years of friendship and finance – meet Stewart Macgregor

Today in our series of interviews with friends from our first fit years we speak to Stewart Macgregor, Specialist Adviser at Co-operative Development Scotland

“Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS) is the organisation in Scotland which supports companies and community groups to adopt employee ownership or a co-operative business model. I am one of the specialists with the team and I provide support to both new and existing co-operatives.

We are still relatively new to the support landscape despite having been set up by the Scottish Government in 2006, and so our relationship with ICOF is at its early stages too. We’ve been enjoying the stories shared so far and appreciating the significant contribution ICOF has made over the years and are looking forward to our relationship with ICOF growing in the future.

It’s an exciting time for the sector in Scotland. The Co-op and Mutual Economy report only published last month by Co-operatives UK highlights that co-ops in Scotland have increased by 3.16% (602 to 621) and have a combined turnover of £1.8bn. They make a significant contribution to the economy.

The policy landscape in Scotland is also important. Scotland’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation (NSET) published in March 2022 sets out an ambitious and transformational vison for Scotland’s economy. By placing the concept of a wellbeing economy at the heart of the strategy, the government seeks to create prosperity that delivers for all of Scotland’s population and places while respecting environmental limits and climate targets.  There has been growing interest in, and recognition of, inclusive models including co-ops for some time but the publication of NSET provides a clear commitment to embed these models into Scotland’s economic landscape. The Government is now engaged in a review of how best to significantly increase the number of social enterprises, employee-owned businesses and co-operatives to support regional regeneration and generate wealth in local communities and CDS is delighted to be supporting that.

Community wealth building is also a key feature of delivering the transformational change proposed by NSET. This blueprint for Scotland’s economic development puts local creation and distribution of wealth at its heart. The approach is made up of a framework of five pillars, one of which is plural ownership, corresponding directly to CDS’ mission.

The variety of our clients is one of the most unique and rewarding things about my role. CDS provides support to a wide variety of groups from across different sectors including shops, pubs, energy and even a new school building.

Assets like this are critical to communities both for the local economy and the wellbeing of those who live there. Increasingly though, we are seeing co-op models being considered for larger scale transformational projects. For example, Granite Care a consortium in Aberdeen bringing together a group of care providers to win a multi-million pound public contract and recently launched Kooble, a booking platform co-op poised to shake up the online hospitality booking market. Perceptions of what a co-op can be are changing and the versatility of the model increasingly recognised.

Support around finance is a critical topic for our client base. We get simple questions around how to navigate a business banking system that is focussed on mainstream business models through to how to access finance to grow their organisations. Historically, our role was very much focussed on new co-op set up however in the last year we have expanded our offering to support existing co-ops. This is helping to forge a closer relationship with clients where they are more likely to be seeing support around finance and with this change we see more opportunity for collaboration.

On behalf of the whole team at Co-operative Development Scotland I want to say many happy returns to ICOF. What you have achieved is inspirational and fifty years is a significant milestone. We look forward to working with you as your story continues, strengthening our partnership and ensuring more co-ops in Scotland access the fantastic advice and support offered.“