Governance and the society secretary: Jim Watts, Central England Co-op

'The role is about doing the right thing on behalf of the society'

Jim Watts holds the position of society secretary at Central England Co-op, and says this is defined by three key roles – and these all have a part to play in ensuring effective governance.

“First and foremost, my role as secretary is to support and guide the board in fulfilling its duties in order to meet the society’s strategic aims and objectives,” he says. “In a co-op, there is also the added important responsibility for the board to follow co-operative values and principles in carrying out its work – which is what sets it apart from typical business ownership structures.

“The best way to put this is that the secretary should act as a trusted advisor to the board so that the directors can operate effectively as a cohesive group and work in the best interests of the society as a whole on behalf of the members.

“This also sees me act as the independent ‘link’ between the president, the board and our executive team – and aims to ensure the smooth running of our programme of board and sub-committee meetings, supported by regular communication in between meetings.”

The second key area for Mr Watts and his team is based on supporting the society’s members in a variety of ways.

“This is a very big and vital part of my role and can encompass everything from our members’ meetings to annual elections,” he says.

“I am proud of the great work that we have done over the past few years around our members’ meetings to ensure they strike the right balance between providing a clear overarching view of the society as a whole, at the same time as making them interesting, informative and relevant to our local members.

“In terms of our annual elections, my role is to promote our co-operative point of difference as a member-owned business. This means encouraging our members to use their democratic right to take part and have their say on the society and how it is run.

“Our annual and half-yearly reports are a great way for us to shine a light on the things the society has been doing and explain our progress and achievements to our members.

“But at the same time, our communications with members have to balance the joint requirements of meeting our statutory reporting obligations while also providing a clear overview of our progress and the impact we have made, and showing how we continue to measure ourselves by co-operative values and principles.”

The third key role is based around the behind- the-scenes work that is essential when it comes to making sure the society remains open for business and compliant with its legal obligations.

“Working closely with assistant society secretary Michael Tavener, this is all about keeping on top of things such as the timely filing of statutory information including annual returns, accounts and corporate registrations,” says Mr Watts.

“The role is all about good, open communication and the ability to work on all manner of topics, often taking place at the same time, and to then be able to articulate and put them into action across the society while working with everyone from the president and the chief executive to our members and colleagues.

“In short, it’s about ‘doing the right thing’ on behalf of the society.”

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