For the culmination of the UN International Year of Co-operatives, we are delighted to be welcoming the worldwide Co-operative Movement to the North West of England, the home of The Co-operative Group since 1863 and the birthplace of the modern Co-operative Movement.

In 2013 we will celebrate our 150th birthday. It will be a moment of great pride for our members and a time for us to reflect on our past, present and future contribution to the Movement, not just in the United Kingdom but across the world.

As the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) we became a powerhouse of Co-operative manufacturing by the start of the 20th century, supplying co-operative branded goods, from bootlaces to biscuits, to more than a thousand local Co-operative Societies. We also supplied co-ops around the world through distribution depots in locations as far afield as New York and the African Gold Coast. Our address, 1, Balloon Street, Manchester became almost as well known internationally as 10, Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.

In 1872 we opened our Loan and Deposit Department, the forerunner of The Co-operative Bank, and in 1896 our first farm at Roden in Shropshire. Today, we are the UK’’s largest farmer. Through numerous mergers and acquisitions, the Group now makes up well over 80% of Co-operative trade in the UK and is one of the largest consumer co-operatives in the world. The Group is jointly owned by over 7.2 million individual members.

Our core businesses are food, financial services, pharmacy, funerals, legal services, life planning, and electrical goods. We also operate commercial activities in security and clothing and have established a joint venture with Thomas Cook, a business which constitutes the UK’s largest travel agency.

Our turnover last year was £13.3bn and we employee more than 102,000 people. We trade through over 5,000 outlets and are serving more than 21 million customers per week.Our Estates department has more than 10,000 properties under its management and has recently announced a joint venture to redevelop our 20 acre complex of buildings in central Manchester to create a vibrant new quarter for the city.

This autumn we have begun moving into a new purpose built office 1, Angel Square in Manchester. The building is one of the most environmentally sustainable offices in Europe and it is a demonstration, not only our ethical commitments, but our financial strength and a belief in our long-term future.

We are recognised in the UK as the most ethical retailer and financial services provider on the high street. Our banking ethical policy has just marked its 20th anniversary. We pioneered fairtrade in the UK when no other major retailer would stock such products. We have also been recognised with industry awards for our leadership position on animal welfare and tackling climate change.

Informed by our members’ priorities, our social goals agenda is to protect the environment, keep local communities thriving, tackle global poverty, inspire young people, and invest in the future of co-operation. We have a programme of activity, with challenging targets linked to our business planning cycle, to ensure we deliver on these priorities.

Our long-term strategic aim is to expand our two biggest businesses, food and banking, and maintain a challenger brand in the other markets in which we operate. We believe the compelling essence of the Co-operative brand has yet to be fully realised in the UK and we are currently developing a marketing strategy that will link up all of our family of businesses and demonstrate our trustworthiness and the commercial responsibility that comes with the Co-operative model of business ownership.