At the 2005 Annual and Special Meeting of Midlands Co-operative Society it was reported that sales were up on the previous year, achieving gross sales of £83m, an increase of 7% on 2003/04, largely thanks, it was said, to the Dairy which was now operating at near full capacity.
Though doorstep sales had fallen, deliveries to organisations had risen, including increasing demand from primary schools and nurseries. Rounds acquired from Arla which had been successfully integrated into the business were reported as giving the Society a consolidated base from which to expand further in this area.
Having heard rumours about the future of the Dairy, farmer members went to the officers’ table after the AGM, because no opportunity to ask questions had been given.
- What is the future of Birmingham Dairies and its 284 suppliers?
- As Birmingham Dairies customers are now paying a higher price for milk, when will the milk producers get a proportion of this extra income?
The officers replied that they had heard nothing but would ask ‘get back to them’.
Five days after the meeting, however, members of the Heart of England Farmers’ Co-operative, which supplies 92% of the Dairy’s milk, were stunned to hear that it was to be taken over by Dairy Crest. Staff at the processing, bottling and packing plant lost their jobs and there were considerable losses to their local economies, including serious damage to the transport firms who had served the Dairy for many years.
When a socially useful business is not running at a loss what justification can a humane and socially aware organisation advance for throwing people out of work in this way? Was the co-operative ethic over-ruled by the balance sheet?
Democratic procedures featuring consultation, transparency and members’ participation should be incorporated in all aspects of the society’s life.
There can be no excuse for lying to members.