Exterior of the Scottish Parliament Building. Taken at around 2pm on New Year’s Day 2013. A city full of historic architecture and that has UNESCO World heritage status that contrasts with this post modern example of architecture by Enric Miralles who died before the building was completed in around 2004.The jutting shapes are ‘think pods’ for Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) to spend time in to reflect.
Photo by Chris Flexen on Unsplash

With Employee Ownership Day taking place on Friday 23rd June, it was a good opportunity to look at how the Scottish Government is encouraging an increase in the number of employee-owned businesses based in, or operating in, Scotland. As a Co-operative Party MSP, I am clear that the benefits of employee-ownership and co-operative models of businesses for employees, organisations and their communities are worth pursuing – including better resilience, improved productivity, inclusion and innovation, alongside wellbeing and fair work improvements.

Employee-owned businesses are also rooted in their own communities and help secure quality long-term jobs for the areas they operate in. Following the pandemic we have had an opportunity to look at how we do business and to change the focus to businesses which give back to their communities, and that deliver benefits beyond standard economic measures, but as yet that has not been backed up with any substantive action from the Scottish Government. I hope that the current drive towards a wellbeing economy presents a chance to provide more support and encouragement.

Back in 2018 the Scottish Government set out plans to increase the number of employee-owned businesses operating in Scotland to 500, from around 100 at that point. But the latest figures from Co-operative Development Scotland, from March 2022, show that number has only grown to 195. With the census process only being carried out every two years, it takes longer to see evidence of growth or to measure the success of any action but it is clear that the rate of growth is too slow.

The day before Employee Ownership Day, I had the opportunity to raise the matter during General Questions in the Scottish Parliament, asking about progress and highlighting that at current pace, it would take another 12 years to get to the 2030 target. If there is any chance of meeting the target, that pace needs to increase significantly.

There is a commitment within the Programme for Government to review how to “significantly increase” the number of social enterprises, employee-owned businesses and co-operatives, and while it is welcome that the Cabinet Secretary responded this work was due to begin in the Autumn, it again underlines the slow pace of action and the absence of steps to boost numbers in this current year.

If the Scottish Government is serious about delivering on its commitment to the 2030 target, we cannot keep waiting for action. The current pace of growth risks falling far short and the longer it takes to act, the more out of reach it gets. There are opportunities to be grasped and I want to see more communities and employees across Scotland benefiting from this positive model of doing businesses.