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  • Writer's pictureLinda Andrews

UK Employee Owned Sector Grows

The Employee Ownership Association (EOA) has marked this year’s EO Day

by releasing its latest update on the state of the sector.

Produced in collaboration with the White Rose Centre for Employee Ownership (WREOC), the EOA’s figures show that there were 332 businesses that transitioned to employee ownership in the 2022 calendar year alone, and that as of June 2023 the total number of companies owned partially or fully by their employees has reached 1,418. This means another record year for growth of the sector, following a boom in recent years.

To mark EO Day, where the employee owned community looks to celebrate and raise awareness of the impact of EO, the EOA has also released its annual list of the Top 50 largest employee owned businesses in the UK, produced in collaboration with RM2 Partnership. The John Lewis Partnership and Arup Group top the list, with several new businesses also joining the Top 50 this year, including EOA member Kingsland Drinks Group.

Recent years have seen a continued boom for the EO sector. Between 2020 to 2022, the sector more than doubled in size to over 1,000 EO businesses. Growing awareness of employee ownership through high-profile transitions in recent years, such as those of retailer Richer Sounds and makers of Wallace and Gromit Aardman Animations, are partially credited with the rise. It’s thought that the increasing number of business owners reaching retirement age, coupled by deeper consideration of succession brought about by the pandemic, has also fueled interest in the model.

James de le Vingne, CEO of the EOA, said: “Employee ownership has incredible power to unlock the potential of UK business. As the sector continues to grow, we want to highlight that EO produces results for businesses, employees, the economy and the planet. That’s why this year’s EO Day theme is #TheEOeffect – celebrating this fantastic impact is at the heart of our celebrations.”

Riverford Organic Farmers, an EOA member whose founder Guy Singh-Watson recently sold his remaining shares to convert the company to 100% employee ownership, is featured in the Top 50 list. Charlotte Tickle, Director of People, Finance and Change at Riverford, said: “It’s great to see the continued growth of EO across the UK. Employee ownership is now central to Riverford’s culture, and ensures we stay true to our purpose and values. We’ve seen first-hand how it can support our business to be more resilient and profitable, whilst giving genuine power to those who have invested in our long-term success, allowing co-owners to be more happy, engaged, and productive by having a real stake and a say in the business.”

This year’s EO Day campaign is sponsored by boutique legal practice Postlethwaite Solicitors, which specialises in advising companies on becoming employee owned. Robert Postlethwaite, founder and Managing Director of the firm, commented: “We’re delighted to have sponsored this year’s EO Day campaign. The latest figures on the growth of the EO sector powerfully illustrate the growing recognition of the positive effect EO can have on businesses, its people and our wider society. We strongly believe in the fantastic impact that employee ownership can have, which is why we ourselves transitioned to 100% employee ownership earlier this year.”

CleanTEC, a cleaning services company featured in the EO Top 50 and employing more than 1,500 people, is an exemplar of this effect. “CleanTEC are proud to have become Employee Owned in 2021,” commented Ingrid Cherry, Sales & Marketing Manager at their Watford-based Head office, said. “Our EO allows us to give employees a real stake in how the company is run, making them happier and more engaged in knowing they are partners in delivering the company’s future success. EO can be transformational for workers in traditionally low-paid sectors such as cleaning, so we’re excited to see the continued growth of EO in years to come.”


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