In August some disturbing news was published in the Letters columns of the Co-operative News.
The first letter, from Robert Jones of Chelmsford, deplored a lack of co-operation leading to competition between co-operatives; the second came from John Macbeth, Stoke-on-Trent with a similar concern from Nick Palin in Leeds about the closure of smaller stores in deprived areas as almost 200 new stores are being opened in relatively affluent areas, with hundreds more planned, according to Steve Murrells, chief executive of retail for the Co-op Group.
As Mr Jones notes, there is local opposition to the Galleywood store, for which a planning application has been made.
EssexLive News reported the views of residents opposing such a development on a busy, congested crossroads and think that the loss of parking on the site which was formerly the garden of the Eagle public house. Earlier one of them, opposing the development of such a store behind an attractive listed building said: “We already have one Co-op store in the village, less than a mile away from the pub, so we don’t need two. It is felt by many to be greedy, unnecessary and excessive.”
John Macbeth, Stoke-on-Trent, refers to an earlier letter about the sale of 298 convenience stores to McColl’s Retail Group. Elsewhere we read that the Co-op hired highly paid advisers at Rothschild’s boutique investment bank to find prospective buyers for these shops.
He describes the Co-op, which was once a ‘significant retailing presence’ in the area as ‘almost a complete irrelevance after having traded successfully and profitably in the area for over 100 years’. His verdict:
“(T)he new Member’s Council is . . . completely incapable of holding the board to account despite the rhetoric . . . “
Nick Palin in Leeds also focusses on the McColl sale – about which members (‘as usual’) have not been consulted. His letter gives rise to a question, “Is the policy now to dispose of stores in deprived areas and open new ones in relatively affluent areas? “
Retail Gazette reports that a source close to the Co-op confirmed that the sale will not deter it from carrying out plans to open 100 new stores and refitting 150 additional sites this year.
Robert Jones ends: “One is inclined to believe delighted anti-co-operative detractors, who say that the group is now being run by all-for-profit, private capitalist entryists who have little interest in or understanding of co-operative principles.”