TWO large retail societies in south east England look set to merge later this year.
A statement issued jointly by the directors of Ipswich & Norwich Co-op and the Colchester and East Essex Co-op says the two societies have begun discussions aimed at creating a single organisation by the autumn.
Providing the merger plan is approved by members, the new society will become the country's third biggest independent with over 200 trading outlets; more than 5,000 employees and a projected annual turnover of around £ 400 million.
Initially, Colchester Co-op's Chris Blanchett will become Chief Executive of the proposed new society with Ipswich & Norwich's Richard Samson being named as Chief Executive Designate.
The statement says Mr Samson will take over as Chief Executive when Mr Blanchett retires in late 2006.
"This arrangement will secure the ability and experience of both officers whilst ensuring a seamless succession," say the societies.
And in a bid to convince employees the deal is in their best interests, the two boards say they will maintain existing salaries and security of employment for two years following a merger so staff are not disadvantaged.
A new name for the proposed society has not been made public and both co-ops have made it clear negotiations concerning the merger are still at an early stage.
The co-ops point to geographic linkage trading across north Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk, and say the societies already work closely together, have a common ethos and are both committed to member involvement and the individual dividend.
Said the joint statement: "Colchester and East Essex and the Ipswich and Norwich societies are two of the most successful retail co-ops in the country with a history of working together over many years. Operating as we do in a highly competitive environment, the critical mass we will gain from merger will significantly increase our longer term strength and security."