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2002 Update on ICOF by Caroline Whyte

Since 1996 ICOF has increased its lending capacity to 4 million sterling. This increase was brought about partly by a further share issue under the Community Capital programme. Capital was also raised by means of a second PLC issuance of shares in 1997. According to Andrew Hibbert, Development Officer at ICOF, the share issue route "provides the best way of raising stable capital", and so is worth following despite the challenges of funding it. A third, smaller PLC issuance also took place, targeted solely at existing shareholders.

The Community Capital program is now focusing on forming partnerships with Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) in Britain. Thus, its focus has become more localised than previously. In this it has been considerably aided by the current Labour government, whose policy of trying to promote regional development has led to the setting up of the RDAs with a remit to promote social enterprise. The first region to be covered under this programme will be the East Midlands, and the hope is that the programme there will be underway in September 2002.

ICOF is also hoping to develop stronger links with the mainstream consumer co-op movement in Britain. The consumer co-ops are retail societies, some of them established in the 19th century. Although many of them fell on hard times over the past few decades, recently they have rebounded and become profitable again. Andrew Hibbert thinks that this rebound largely came about because the societies have rediscovered their co-op roots and there is more commitment within the general public to the field of co-operation than there used to be.

These large consumer co-ops have been looking for ways to invest their funds, and so ICOF is joining with them to form the Co-operative Action Foundation, which is a loan and grant fund whose aim is to provide funding to innovative co-ops. Hibbert thinks that this foundation could led to ICOF playing a much bigger role in the nationwide co-op movement in the future.

ICOF's website is at www.icof.co.uk , and the Head Office address is 227c City Road, London EC1V 1JT. Tel 020 7251 6181, fax 020 7336 7407, e-mail icof@icof.co.uk

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