Co-operative Glasgow, United Kingdom
Co-operative Glasgow, United Kingdom - ©City of Glasgow

Co-operative Glasgow

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Main actors

City Government, Private Sector, NGO / Philanthropy

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Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region

Icons use case study duration


Ongoing since 2012/01

By supporting cooperatives and social enterprises and devolving power to local people, Glasgow is finding effective and sustainable new ways of rising to economic and social challenges.

Glasgow City Council is committed to developing Glasgow as a cooperative city and has introduced an innovative partnership with residents around the delivery of public services. Co-operative Glasgow aims to address the responsibility for public services by determining which services are best run by the city and which can be delivered better within the local community. Glasgow City Council's commitment to co-operation extends beyond collaborating with communities to include supporting the start-up and growth of cooperative businesses.

The council has identified the cooperative economic model as a sector with significant growth potential that has yet to be fully realized in the United Kingdom. Glasgow City Council plans to actively support this model and provide the framework for expansion through its Strategic Plan 2012-2017.

To support the development of cooperative business models, the Co-operative Development Unit (CDU) was created within the Development and Regeneration Services department at Glasgow City Council. The Cooperative Glasgow Business Development Fund was given a budget allocation of approximately £700,000 (€830,000) to award grants to cooperatives and start-ups. 

Co-operative Glasgow is about changing the way the city council operates so that it partners more with external organisations and works more meaningfully with citizens.

Originally published by EUROCITIES, the network of 130 European cities - PDF: 

Sustainable Development Goals

Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Reduce inequality within and among countries
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels


This project was shortlisted for the 'EUROCITIES Awards' in 2016 in the following category: Innovation.

Glasgow, United Kingdom

Size and population development

Population composition
As of 2011, 15.4% of the city population is of a minority ethnic group

Main functions
Third largest city in the United Kingdom and largest seaport.

Main industries / business
Financial services, communications, biosciences, creative industries, healthcare, higher education, retail and tourism, but also shipbuilding, engineering, construction, brewing and distilling, printing and publishing, chemicals and textiles

Political structure
The Glasgow City Council consists of 79 councillors elected for a four-year term from 21 wards. The council is headed by the Lord Provost of Glasgow, who is elected to perform tasks as a general civil leader.

Like all UK city councils, Glasgow faces many problems brought about by budget cuts, changing demographics and increasingly complex service needs. Despite strategies focused specifically towards helping people on long-term benefits and improving health inequality, progress had not been fast enough. The council recognised that a different approach was required and set out to find new ways of reaching those most in need and doing more with limited funds.

Glasgow had some experience of working in a cooperative way, so that rather than simply delivering services it worked with enterprises and communities to co-create services designed around citizens’ lives and needs. The city was also already home to many cooperative businesses whose social objectives made them ideal potential partners.  Two-thirds of Glasgow's cooperatives are located in low socio-economic neighbourhoods, where they hire an estimated 1,117 full-time and 242 part-time employees. Convinced that wider adoption of this approach was the best way to achieve both better services and better value, the council made a commitment to become a cooperative city in 2012.

The Co-operative Development Unit was established with the following objectives:

  • Deliver on the Council‟s commitment to develop and coordinate council-die co-operative activity;
  • Conduct and/ or commission research on Co-operative Council activity across the UK and the wider co-operative economy, to identify potential opportunities for Glasgow City Council;
  • Promote the development of co-ops, mutuals and social enterprises;
  • Provide advice and support to individuals, businesses and social enterprises on developing co-operative business models

Research by the Co-operative Development Unit (CDU), set up to deliver the project’s action plan, identified two primary pieces of work:

  • Develop a new culture of partnership within the council;
  • Help the city’s co-operative sector thrive and grow through easier access to funding and networking. 

The council’s investment enabled the establishment of the Cooperative Glasgow Business Development Fund. This fund awards development grants to cooperatives, mutuals, social enterprises and council departments. Since 2013, grants totalling £697,000 have been awarded to 34 existing cooperatives and 11 start-ups. Another initiative designed to provide wider access to affordable credit has seen Glasgow’s 34 credit unions offer an ethical low-cost alternative to payday lenders and help young people start saving.

Glasgow People’s Energy is another flagship initiative that shows the cooperative service delivery model in action. Managed by the council with two social enterprises, this impartial and ethical energy advice and switching service saved businesses, social enterprises and charities a total of £181,000 in its first eight months of operation. The idea is that profits generated through the scheme’s introducer fees from energy suppliers are used to reduce dependency on council grants by the city’s existing fuel poverty advice service for residents. After three years of operation, it is envisaged that a domestic switching service will be established for all Glasgow tenants and residents.

The Glasgow City Council provides annual funding of £500,000 via The Co-operative Development Unit (CDU). This has led to the expansion of the CDU and the establishment of a cross-functional group of ‘Co-operative Champions’ who identify cooperative opportunities and develop links within and beyond council.

Putting cooperative values at the heart of service development and delivery has resulted in a wide range of initiatives across the city. Citizens can now see how decisions are made by watching live streaming of council meetings and can influence how community budgets are spent by voting online. Since 2012 over 1,000 long-term unemployed residents have secured jobs in infrastructure projects due to a new community benefit approach to purchasing. Many residents with no or low income are benefiting from FareShare Glasgow, a food redistribution project run by the council in partnership with a homelessness/employability social enterprise.

As with any project of this scale and ambition, Co-operative Glasgow has faced significant challenges. Establishing new kinds of partnerships with external organisations has tested existing legal procedures. Similarly, financial culture in the public sector is naturally risk averse, which can inhibit implementation of new ideas. It also highlighted that traditional business support didn’t include promotion of the cooperative business model: this was addressed by running explanatory workshops. Moreover, changing the culture of an organisation with tens of thousands of employees used to delivering services for people to one that works with them is a complex challenge that will take time.

Inequality remains on ongoing challenge for the city. Among its top priorities is providing affordable childcare through a partnership between the CDU, the council’s education department, childcare cooperatives and social enterprises.

Co-operative Glasgow has made great advancements in its first three years of operation. This is partly because the city had a well established cooperatives sector and strong political commitment to the cooperative model. Its success is a testament to the approach of the CDU. From the beginning, the team recognised that besides having the appropriate funding, three other factors were equally important: consistent messaging; finding common goals with other council departments;  and making smart, creative use of all the council’s assets, from its people to its buildings.

Glasgow City Council intends to future proof the project against elections and funding issues by including it in the long-term economic strategy for the city.

Cities in action - Co-operative Glasgow, Glasgow adopts cooperative model - Eurocities, November 2016.

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