You can’t have missed the Barclays Libor rate scandal in the past couple of weeks. What’s interesting is the effect it’s having on the decisions we make. According to reports, The Cooperative Bank saw a 25% increase in enquiries about opening an account last week. And the Building Society Association said, “We are starting to see consumers voting with their feet and moving their money to building societies and other mutuals. As customer-owned businesses we have a different, consumer-first culture.”
I think that “consumer-first” culture point is interesting. As one commentator pointed out on Radio 4 this morning – and we’ve all no doubt all experienced – large corporations often don’t seem to care about us. Make a complaint or threaten to take your custom elsewhere and they don’t seem too bothered.
I also heard the news today that the three biggest milk processors in the UK are cutting the price they pay to farmers. According to the NFU, it costs more than 30p a litre to produce milk, yet if the planned cuts go ahead, some farmers could be paid about 24p a litre. That’s clearly unsustainable and is putting more and more farmers out of business.
These two stories got me thinking. We all use the big banks and the big supermarkets, but I count myself among the people increasingly concerned about the power these commercial organisations hold and the culture within them.
The tagline of the International Year of the Cooperatives talks about how cooperatives “build a better world”.
Working with local suppliers, shopping in local independent shops or at cooperatives is completely different to going to a national commercial operation. In local shops you’re a real person dealing with real people who really care about your business because they really depend on it. In a cooperative you’re dealing with people who have a say and a share of the profits.
As more and more people become disillusioned with the big names and what they stand for, they’ll be looking for an alternative. Local businesses and cooperative businesses have got a unique opportunity to show there’s a better way. Let’s seize that opportunity!