Improving co-operative standards for nearly 30 years

BEST practice is best for co-operators and consumers – and no one has done more to further this idea than Dr John Butler. For almost 30 years, his...

BEST practice is best for co-operators and consumers – and no one has done more to further this idea than Dr John Butler. For almost 30 years, his working life has been devoted to improving standards and structures within the Co-op Movement.
When Co?operatives UK decided, in early 2005, to follow good corporate governance practice and separate the roles of Chief Executive and Secretary, John Butler assumed the latter position.
He will also be one of the key players at Congress in Manchester.
He joined the former Co?operative Union as Secretary to the South Western Sectional Board in 1978, and was soon involved in creating larger regional consumer societies.
In 1983 he moved to the Union&#039s head office in Manchester, becoming a member of the merger unit specially created.
He recalls: "It was a time when the trading and governance structures of the Movement were causing real concerns."
In 1987 John helped form the Institute of Co-op Directors with the aim of developing skills and professional knowledge.
"I have enormous respect for our lay directors and we created a structure of courses which acknowledge their role as essential to the well-being of the movement.
"Now we have a qualification framework which ensures that directors of co-operative enterprises are suitably equipped to run their businesses to the highest standards."
John is a strong believer in the need for detailed research to be undertaken on the Co-operative Movement and was, for a number of years, the Secretary of the UK Society for Co-operatives Studies. He still serves on the Executive Committee of the society.
But his major legacy is likely to be the movement&#039s first Code of Best Practice, which was drafted in 1995 when he was Secretary of the Corporate Governance Review Group.
"As a Co-op Movement we should be acting in accordance with the highest standards. I think our code takes account of best practice and recognises that we have established something we can all be proud of."
John was also instrumental in compiling the Corporate Governance Code for Co-op societies, released at last year&#039s Congress. He has also been responsible for developing the National Retail Consumer Conference.
This can be a somewhat controversial event. This year United Co-op&#039s Chief Executive Peter Marks called for a single Co-op society. This is an idea, which Dr Butler has an open mind on. But as he points out, it&#039s not the first time it has been raised.
"J.C Gray, a General Secretary of the Co-op Union, first put forward the idea in 1906. I also heard it raised at one of my first Congresses in the 1970s.
"It&#039s true there&#039s a need for rationalisation and people like Peter Marks have been very successful in strengthening our regional societies, but in the end it is up to the Movement. We have got to recognise that certain societies have been very successful but people do have concerns about change."
As Secretary of Co-operatives UK, John is constantly searching for new co-ops around the country and works with the Industrial Common Ownership Movement to expand what is an ever-increasing portfolio.
John says he is keenly looking forward to this year&#039s Congress: "The beauty of it is that it&#039s a fantastic opportunity to learn about the latest developments network and meet new contacts. These days, it&#039s much more participative in style and far less confrontational."
Congress will also be offering delegates the chance to visit Suma, the wholefood co-operative in West Yorkshire, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary.
Once Congress is over, Dr Butler will carry on consolidating the ideas on corporate governance, which have occupied much of his time over the past 20 years.
"I am pursuing more work on how our societies comply as well as developing codes of conduct for our worker co-ops and ABCUL, the Association of British Credit Unions. It&#039s important that we act according to our principles. Our growth rate is phenomenal and we now have 441 members. Our new membership development officer is doing a marvellous job. Our worker co-ops are succeeding and are a very diverse list of social enterprises. But what they share is a wonderful commitment and enthusiasm, which is marvellous to see."

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