Nick Crofts has been the president of the Co-operative Group’s Members’ Council since 2015. An elected member of the Co-op since 2009, he also represents the Knotty Ash ward on Liverpool City Council; and in 2016 he spent some time in the USA working on Hillary Clinton’s campaign. He now works managing the office of Labour/Co-op MP Stephen Twigg and has a background in sales and marketing. With local elections coming up, we caught him while on a break from canvassing for his colleagues who are standing for election.
What does a regular day look like for you?
Nick Crofts: There is no such thing as a regular day serving as the president of the Co-op Members’ Council. For example, I was in Manchester yesterday and for regular meetings with Jo Whitfield, retail chief executive, Allan Leighton, chair of the Group Board, Ian Ellis, chief finance officer. I also have weekly catch-up meetings with Gill Gardner, who is the council secretary.
They were different sorts of ‘keeping in touch’ meetings and it was a good opportunity to hear from Jo and Ian about the plans they have for developments across the family of businesses.
It’s always good to catch up with Allan to exchange our thinking. He’s very interested in the views of the Council and is very candid about the work and priorities of the Board.
I’m also a trustee of the Co-operative Heritage Trust that looks after the Rochdale Pioneers’ Museum and the Co-operative Archive and we had a meeting yesterday.
How did you get involved in the co-op movement? What attracted you to it?
Nick Crofts: I discovered the movement through the Co-operative Party. I became a member of the party, drawn in by the fact that people working together, collaborating together, can bring about real change. I had been an active member for some years before I was approached to consider standing for election for the Merseyside Area Committee, under the old structures.
I’ve always been very interested in business. Finding ways to use commerce to create a fairer society and more equal economy is very attractive to me. Using business to improve the world and make it more just and equitable rather than make things worse.
I had been involved in Labour politics for some years. I had that strong sense that the co-op movement along with the labour movement and trade union movement comprise really important organisations representing working people.
What is the best aspect of the being president of the Members’ Council?
Nick Crofts: It’s an extraordinary privilege to lead the body that represents the owners of our co-op – our millions of individual members and the independent co-operative societies that founded our co-op 150 years ago.
As elected members we have the opportunity to see what’s happening within the business and see far more than a regular member would. I am hugely proud to be one of the 100 members who have this opportunity.
And the hardest?
With an active trading membership of millions, finding out what those members think is a really difficult challenge. There isn’t a single issue on which our members have a common view. The ability for a co-op of our scale to meaningfully engage with millions of individual members is very difficult and we have to bear that in mind in our role as elected representatives. It is very hard to know what our members think on any issue.
The council is a plenary committee of 100 members, which gives us strength in depth. It can sometimes be an unwieldy committee to chair!
What are the main challenges ahead for the Co-op Group and what do you think the future holds for it?
Nick Crofts: I’m really excited about the future of the Co-op. We have travelled an extraordinary distance since the dark and dangerous days of 2013. I was a member of one of the Regional Boards during the crisis and it gave me a fascinating vantage point to observe the crisis unfolding. If someone had told me that a few years later we would have relaunched the membership proposition, relauched our brand, returned to profit, and made such improvements to the balance sheet, I probably wouldn’t have believed them.
I’m hugely optimistic about the future of the organisation. The values we have and the trust and admiration we still have from millions of members and customers are extraordinary assets that we can continue to leverage into the future.
And of course, we remain a work in progress. The reality is that too many of our businesses were underinvested for far too long. There is still a vast amount of work to do – and investment needed – to make sure that our businesses are fit to serve members’ and customers’ needs into the future.
So there is still work to be done in sorting some of those issues. I am hugely proud of the team running the society. Steve Murrels has done an amazing work building on Richard Pennycook’s achievements. His recognition that we can accomplish more by working together is welcomed by the National Members’ Council and our independent society partners who see that Steve has a genuinely collaborative approach and a different tone than some of its predecessors.