This website was inspired by the truthful and trenchant remarks of readers in the Letters pages of the Co-operative News. A few found in the 2005 database are recorded below.
Ron Hunter writing from Sussex reminded readers succinctly that “Democratic control must not be treated as an optional extra”.
Vic Parks, chair of the Group’s Surrey and Berks Area Committee, writing in a personal capacity, said that the overarching strategic aim should be to keep alive the aims and ambitions fought for by previous co-operators – so convincing others that there is a real alternative. Staff members at all levels should genuinely embrace co-operative ideology and “walk the talk”. Savage cuts had been imposed upon committees in a cavalier and undemocratic manner, without taking into account the fact that ordinary members, rather than management, own the society . . .
A self-perpetuating lucrative sinecure for an under-achieving hierarchy
Philip Rapier, a member of the Group’s South Wales Regional Committee, also writing in a personal capacity said that the decline of the movement’s democratic heritage must be stopped by changing the status quo, which is a vehicle for creating a self-perpetuating lucrative sinecure for an under-achieving hierarchy. These people are well represented on the Remuneration Committee, which has awarded them excessive pay and pensions, comparable to those earned by industrialists who built their own businesses, often risking everything they had, including their own homes.
M.D Mathieson questioned the whole concept of the Co-operative Group as it now exists: The Co-operative Group now operates on such a scale that it has lost an important co-operative asset, a sense of belonging to a community . . . the individual members do not vote for Board members, do not have a vote on the annual report and accounts and cannot attend the AGM. Representatives elected by an obscure transferable vote system do all this for them.
Former Midlands Society Chief Executive and Co-op Group director Willie Tucker said he passionately believed in the co-operative model, which was as relevant today as it was over 100 years ago. At a retirement meeting, 120 colleagues, friends and family including Government Minister Margaret Beckett, heard him say: “There are still too many examples of individuals – sometimes at the highest levels – who are using the Movement for their own personal convenience having lost sight (if indeed they ever had sight) of what exactly it is we are trying to achieve through co-operation”.
Lincoln Co-op director and former Congress President Alan Middleton echoed Mr Tucker’s concerns in a letter in the September issue of the Co-operative News, saying that the movement is “over-dominated” by paid officers: Readers need to be quite clear, there are still officials around – employees of the Movement – who will not rest until the voice of the lay member has been completely silenced”.
“A flawed culture and a system of governance which led to serious failures of oversight”
The findings of Sir Christopher Kelly, appointed by the Co-operative Group to review the bank’s failure, will be reinforced next week, by two warning voices with less familiar names – member commentators – recording and appraising the current actions of the co-operative group, which is often mistaken for the whole movement by the general public.