EOA Blog: One year on, the momentum for EO is thriving

By Operations Director Cathy Brown

It is a year since we last met at the Summer Dinner, in fact it was my first engagement for the EOA.

It has been a fascinating year for me, especially realising how closely aligned the worlds of EO and my previous experience in the world of employee engagement are.

Having been brought in to run the operations of EOA, and support projects being generated by new partnerships being developed by our CEO, this anniversary for me seems a great time for me to reflect on where we are now.

Last year Respublica Director Philip Blond stepped in as speaker and challenged us to turn up the dial on the push for more employee ownership and a more inclusive economy.

Back at the 2018 dinner, we were reflecting on the conclusion of The Ownership Effect Inquiry as we were poised to launch the findings in the inquiry report the Ownership Dividend.

We were also reflecting that each year the dinner, which we hold at Westminster, has become inextricably linked to some kind of big political news: firstly the EU referendum and next the general election.

This year did not disappoint with our political theatre being provided on our route through the Palace of Westminster to our dining room by the array of Conservative leadership runners being filmed and interviewed as they began their party leadership bids and to become our new PM.

And as 150 us met for the 2019 Summer Dinner, just shy of one year on from the launch of the Ownership Dividend there seems to have been a huge shift in the awareness and buy-in to employee ownership not just as a business model but as a route to good work, a more inclusive economy and more resilient regions.

So as we look back on where we have come from we can see that 2018 was the best year yet for the number of businesses becoming employee owned.

And the relationships with our panellists from UK businesses organisations have developed with them becoming active champions for EO working with us on many awareness and learning projects to support the growth of the sector.

Cut through has been reached with all mainstream media carrying coverage about employee ownership and its possible role in a more inclusive economy.

In fact, when Julian Richer announced that he had sold 60% of his business to his employees, the tabloids, broadsheets, broadcast and businesses organisations, MPs were all at once saying yes this is good.

Across the board a positive feel continued through the follow up opinion editorial that followed. And other announcements around employee share ownership such as that from BT, talked about a more inclusive economy.

So making employee ownership better understood, more valued and become more mainstream is in full swing and gathering momentum, but the real change seems to be in how people feel about UK business.

And as our speaker for 2019 Nita Clarke OBE quoted from Mary Poppins “the winds in the east, there’s a mist coming in, like something is brewing, and about to begin.”

She acknowledged that the points she had made about engagement, productivity linked to EO and the UK economy could have been made any time over the past decade.

But added: “…I suggest to you that the world we know is a changing, and that today there is an opportunity for a significant strategic break though for the sector… the national conversation on the role and responsibilities of company ownership, of fairness in the share of national wealth, of work and employment, is undergoing a sea change, into something rich and strange that we haven’t seen before in our lifetimes.”

So with this momentum and great examples of how it works in practice – the US Main Street Employee Ownership Act has come into legislation with cross party support, while Scottish Government’s support for SMEs at the point of succession has seen an increase in businesses becoming employee owned – there just begs one question of the UK.

If not now, WHEN will UK government give the support needed for more EO in the UK?