It is reported that 83.7% of Co-operative Group members have voted in favour of the changes to the structure of the board at the Special General Meeting. Changes include:
- A board of 11 people with a majority of independent directors – reduced from 20 people.
- The board will comprise an independent non-executive chair, five independent non-executive directors, two executive directors (including the group chief executive) and three member-nominated directors.
- A council will represent members and act as the group’s guardian. The body, to comprise a maximum of 100 members, will have power to hold the group board to account.
- A senate, elected by the council, will help co-ordinate the activities of the council and act as a nexus for interactions between the council, the board, the executive and members.
Ursula Lidbetter, chair of the Co-operative Group, called it a “momentous and defining moment”. *Patrick Gray, president of the Midcounties Co-op which opposed the changes, said the vote was not necessarily the end of the matter but rather the beginning of a new phase. He continued: “The effort now is to make new Co-op both commercial and ethical. It’s possible but difficult to achieve and depends on how the new [commercially focused] board gets along with the also new [members’] council.”
A member’s voice . . . Brid Coady Weekes said:
“I agree that this new board structure is a far cry from the intentions of past co-operatives (many of them now subsumed into the Group. But we have to recognise that the Group itself is a totally different business than it was before the merger with United.
“Why did the Board vote for this? It made the retail business bigger and more difficult to run, but provided more better paid jobs in the upper echelons.
“From where I saw it the CEO made all the running with nobody really reining him in. The independents and the elected members seemed impotent. It is some years now since the elected members at all levels really had a voice and I believe that most of the membership took little interest in the way the Coop was run.
“If the three elected members are honest, brave, well-informed, good at making their voices heard, have “political” skills and no vested interests, we might see a turnaround. I hope so”.
And many are now looking at the wider co-operative movement; as Brid ends: “I have largely lost interest in the goings on of the behemoth and prefer to hear about and support smaller focussed cooperatives e.g. alternative power generators”.
BBC business correspondent Joe Lynam commented: “Today’s vote is basically reinventing how the Co-op (Group) is run, putting it on a more commercial footing while retaining crucially the ethical background to the Co-operative movement – the fact that it cannot be turned into a company at some stage in the future, that is one of the safeguards. It will still very much be an ethically focused, members-driven organisation but with far more business acumen and experience going forward.
We hope for the best in both sectors!
*Patrick Gray has added by email “While it is true that we opposed elements of the original proposals put forward by Lord Mynors, we voted for the enabling motion at the Special meeting on 17 May and we voted for the rule changes at the Special Meeting on 30 August”.