THE Co-operative Group AGM voted overwhelmingly to call on the Co-operative Bank to cease charging for withdrawals from all its cash machines, despite a plea from the platform for delegates not to take up a position on the issue in advance of a policy review which is now underway.
Announcing the review, main board member Graham Bennett said the Group is aware of the strength of feeling on the issue of charges, which currently apply to ATMs which are deemed to be uneconomic without them.
These are normally at quieter rural locations with lower usage and, said Mr Bennett, surveys had shown that most customers would prefer to pay either £ 1 or £ 1.20 per withdrawal than face the inconvenience of travelling miles to find a "free" machine.
Mr Bennett told the meeting that, across the Movement, only 220 Co-op Bank cash machines out of a total of 2,300 apply charges and that, despite extensive media coverage, the bank had not been singled out for criticism, which often focused on poor signage in relation to charges.
He also pointed out that, while some providers charge £ 2 per transaction, the Co-op Bank's highest fee was £ 1.20.
But in a passionate debate, every other speaker called for change and the motion proposed by Scottish Co-op delegate Ian McCallum was approved by 124,152 votes to 46,540.
Seconder John Coulthard of North Eastern & Cumbrian Co-op asked how the current policy was compatible with Co-op values and principles and said the practice was "like Robin Hood in reverse".
Mr Coulthard said those with the least money were the hardest hit, with a pensioner withdrawing £ 10 paying the same charge as someone more affluent taking £ 200.
Bob Wright (Wales and Borders) said the current policy contravened the Movement's values and principles and pointed out in his area, potential Co-op customers were instead visiting a nearby Morrisons store where there is a free ATM.
Joe Gluza (Central & Eastern Region) said delegates could be labelled as hypocrites if they failed to back the motion and urged Co-op store managers in shops with chargeable ATMs to post in-store notices advising shoppers to ask for "cash back" at the check-out, rather than pay withdrawal charges.
The review announced by Mr Bennett will consider all options – from the selective removal of uneconomic machines, to charging only members of other banks and removing all charges and bearing the cost. The meeting was assured that, during the review process, no additional charging ATMs will be installed.