CONGRESS President Keith Darwin has called on struggling regional societies to either improve their performance ? or consider transferring engagements to the Co-operative Group.
Mr Darwin, former Chief Executive of Lincoln Co-op and, until Saturday, chairman of the Co-op Group, stressed the need for Co-op Movement unity and closer co-operation between all the regional societies and the Group in his Presidential address at Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium.
He called on all societies to re-examine ways of becoming more successful co-operative businesses and in a clear warning to under-performing retail co-ops, urged boards to look to the future.
Mr Darwin told Congress: "If societies cannot at least match the Co-operative Group's benefits to members, they should produce an action plan for raising their performance within a clearly defined timescale, or seriously consider a transfer of engagements to the Co-operative Group."
He added: "I remain a fervent supporter of regionally based co-operatives ? but not at the expense of efficiency and a satisfactory return to the membership."
But he said he was optimistic that many societies could match the performance of the Co-operative Group.
"I am confident that a good number will pass the test and indeed show the Group at the present time a clean pair of heels ? providing a further stimulus to the Group to, in turn, improve its performance."
Mr Darwin, whose career in the Movement dates back to 1966, also urged boards and management to ensure they take advantage of the current improvements in their trading positions.
He drew attention to the Co-operative Commission's recommendations that boardrooms be strengthened by the appointment of non-executive directors and highlighted how this had not yet been implemented by most societies.
He said: "There is nothing to fear and everything to gain from the implementation of this recommendation which can achieve a significant strengthening of society boards.
"We need to raise the quality of both boards and management if we are to truly regenerate our Movement. It starts with recruitment ? ensuring by one means or another that we have the appropriate level of expertise equal to the task in hand and to maintain standards and levels of performance by continual appraisal and development .
"Failure to address these issues more effectively will lead to a resumption in our downward spiral."
Added the President: "We should urgently re-introduce a national graduate recruitment programme. The dominance of the Co-operative Group today is such that the only practical way for this to be achieved is to build upon a re-vitalised Group scheme.
"I urge my colleagues in the Co-operative Group when addressing this issue internally, to take an inclusive Movement-wide view and enlist the active support and co-operation of corporate members and the wider co-operative sector."
He concluded: "We have what is still an enormous collective asset base, notwithstanding the erosion of recent years. We have many examples of good practice throughout the Movement and Co-operativesUK must take up the challenge of disseminating best practice.
"If we can each learn from one another, we have all the ingredients to hand to make the resurgence of the Movement a reality ? but time is not on our side."