Rob Bates Political and Parliamentary Officer 4th August 2022 Blog Westminster Economy Share Tweet This week saw the implementation of the long-awaited UK Register of Overseas Entities, introduced in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an emergency measure to tackle financial corruption. As of now, anonymous foreign owners or buyers of UK property who do so through overseas companies will be compelled to register their identity and declare the beneficial owners of the company. The Register is a welcome change, and one the Co-operative Party has long called for to increase transparency and shine a light on ownership in the UK. And it was during the introduction of the Government’s Economic Crime Act that the Co-op Party and Co-operative Shadow Secretary of State for Business and Industrial Strategy Jonathan Reynolds MP successfully led the calls to reduce the registration period down from 18 months to lessen the time people had to nefariously conceal their interests. In this time the Party was able to facilitate almost 5,000 members and supporters contacting their own MP, and pressing them to make this change. But despite the introduction of the Register and the reduction in registration period, there is still more to do. Already concerns have been raised around potential loopholes in the Register that would permit people to evade scrutiny and continue to launder money in the usual ways like exploiting the housing market through premium property purchase. Other flaws have been noted that would reduce the Registers ability to properly tackle dirty money, and it’s critical these are urgently addressed to make it an effective tool against corruption and crime. The Government should go further, too, with the introduction of a second Economic Crime Bill, and arm Companies House with the proper support, resources and powers to scrutinise companies and adequately deal with the scale of the problem. But if we are serious about the issue of ownership and in whose interests our economy works, co-operatives should be at the very heart of this strategy. We know, for instance, the co-operatives transparently democratise ownership, and ensure business is undertaken in the interests of members, workers, and employees – not distant oligarchs, kleptocrats and criminals. Yet business regulation in the UK is skewed in favour of private business at the expense of co-operatives. It can take minutes to set up a limited company, and as little as £12. Yet establishing a co-operative can be a lengthy, arduous process that takes months to set-up and register. That has to change, and the playing field between companies and co-operatives levelled. The Register of Overseas Entities is a vital tool in efforts to crack down on criminality, but to properly transform our economy and put the question of ownership at its core this must be allied with efforts to support the benefits we can achieve with a growing co-operative sector.