THE troubled Musselburgh and Fisherrow Co-op in East Lothian is to close its main store with the loss of up to 20 jobs.
According to a report in this week's Musselburgh News, the store will cease trading over the next fortnight, with the phased closure of its grocery and non-food departments.
The paper quotes Chief Executive Tom Lees as saying the decision to close the High Street store in Musselburgh had been forced on the society, which was now facing a bill of more than £ 20,000 to replace the building's ageing heating system.
He explained: "The situation is that the heating plant for the building has been condemned and requires replacing. We received a number of quotes, but the level of capital commitment required would need board approval and as the board is currently inquorate, no approval could be given."
Mr Lees said the store's long-term future was ultimately in the hands of the board, but insisted the shop would be closed until the board is quorate.
The society has called a members meeting this week with the aim of making the board quorate and functional, but co-op members opposed to last year's failed demutualisation bid are believed to be resisting the move, which is being seen as an attempt to get the society functioning again on the Chief Executive's own terms.
Mr Lees believes the food and non-food operation has been a financial drain on the society for years and says he would be surprised if a board would re-open it.
In addition to its Musselburgh store, the society also operates the Quayside leisure complex in the town; funeral outlets in Musselburgh, Dalkeith and Edinburgh and a property investment business, all of which will continue to operate. The Post Office franchise and the Shoefayre business will also continue to trade within the High Street shop as both can be heated independently of the rest of the building.
Trades union representatives and the staff involved were consulted on a number of options. These included continuing to work in the cold, transferring to other parts of the business or taking redundancy – with vast majority opting for redundancy.
Mr Lees told the Musselburgh News: "We are closing because we do not comply with health and safety regulations and as a consequence of that staff have opted to take redundancy. We cannot trade without staff and contrary to health and safety regulations.
"It is not a situation any of us would wish to be in, but the situation has been forced on us by circumstances and we must make the best of the circumstances we find ourselves in."
Past President George Cunningham, who was among a group of rebel members who won a court injunction to halt the halt privatisation bandwagon after alleging procedural and governance irregularities within the society, is said to believe that the proposed store closure is "an unfortunate and unnecessary consequence of the path that the directors and management have chosen to take in the recent past."
This week's special general meeting of the society will consider rule changes which would allow it to 'fast track' the election of new board members.
Mr Lees told the Musselburgh News that once a board is in place, it will have to determine the best way forward. That could involve remaining independent, merging, converting or liquidation, he said.
Meanwhile a report by Financial Services Authority inspectors into governance and membership issues at M&F Co-op has been completed, but has not yet been made public.