As the failings of co-operative executives – once aired only in the Letters columns of the Co-operative News – are now being dissected in parliament and the press, and as Paul Flowers’ peccadillo hits the headlines, once again concerned co-operators plead for a better calibre of management.
People who have had a long-term loyalty to the movement and understand the letter and the spirit of its ethics and procedures are passed over in favour of incomers from the corporate world; a prime example was the former head of farming, Christine Tacon, who once declared that the society would rethink its stance on genetically modified crops – with no form of consultation whatsoever. Others who moved up from within, like Peter Marks and Paul Flowers, were impressionable and became infected with mainstream corporate ambitions.
Is it not time to look at well-qualified co-operators who could be trusted to act in the best interests of the movement?
A prime example is Paul Gosling, specialist in personal finance, public sector management, accountancy and social enterprise. Before becoming a freelance journalist, Paul had been an advisor to workers’ co-operatives, an accountant, a civil servant, managed a computer department in a hosiery factory and a politician (Leicester city councillor from 1987 to 1991). Occasional public speaking and lecturing: a CBI/EURES conference on the state of the Northern Ireland economy and presentations to University of Cambridge engineering students on problems associated with the Public Finance Initiative and Public Private Partnerships.
Co-operators who write to this site with questions or asking to be kept in touch with developments can do no better than subscribe to the News – or access articles online – as recent Gosling articles on the Thomas Cook merger and the latest developments relating to the Co-operative Bank are meticulously laid out for the reader.
On November 6th, Mr Gosling presented the recent history of the bank to the AGM of Northern Ireland Assembly’s All Party Group on Co-operatives and Mutuals. He noted that the former directors continue to argue that the reason for the Bank’s collapse was the scale of the financial crisis, that basically they did nothing wrong and they would do the same thing again regarding Britannia if they replayed history . . . then asked:
What have we learnt?
1. There are dangers for a mutual moving beyond a strategy of organic growth, conservative acquisitions and cautious business strategies.
2. Due diligence needs to be comprehensive.
3. There are serious dangers from changes in leadership and core strategy that lead to comparatively short periods of senior leadership and inconsistent business strategies.
4. Elements of core strategy such as ethical trading principles have to be embedded across all parts and activities of the business.
5. There is a serious problem for a financial mutual in dealing with shortages in capital because they cannot raise capital in the market without degrading their mutual status.
6. There are serious questions about the quality of some of the past executive and non-executive leadership and corporate governance.