Co-operators from across the UK will meet in Manchester this week for a second time to discuss the challenges and opportunities for co-operatives in the 21st century.
The conference follows up on a previous event organised by Co-operative Business Consultants (CBC) in January. Ways forward 2: Co-operative Renewal features a number of experts who will be looking at governance in co-operative businesses, member engagement and inter-trade between co-operatives. They will also touch upon investment in new and developing co-operative businesses on Friday 16 May.
Asked what they hoped to achieve with this second conference, Jo Bird, consultant at CBC, said: “CBC believes a revitalised co-operative movement is possible. This conference will provide space for honest and open debates necessary to face up to serious challenges and opportunities for co-operatives in the 21st century.”
According to Jo Bird, the first Ways Forward conference gathered over 150 co-operators, credit and trade union members as well as individuals and journalists.
“That conference saw some open, honest and wide-ranging discussions about the future of the co-operative movement in the UK. Issues that have been brushed under the carpet for years – like members’ capital contributions, and governance in very large organisations – were addressed in a very positive and forward-looking way,” she said.
“We believe a revitalised Co-operative Movement is possible. The conference will provide space for honest and open debates necessary to face up to serious challenges and opportunities facing co-operatives in the 21st Century. The Co-operative Group’s Annual General Meeting will be held the day after our conference, but it is not open to ordinary co-op members. Our conference is open to all,” added Ms Bird.
Keynote speakers at the event in May include Sir Graham Melmoth, former chief executive of the Co-operative Group (1996-2002); Patrick Gray, president of Midcounties Co-operative; Peter Counchman, chief executive of Plunkett Foundation; Vivian Woodell, chief executive of the Phone Co-op; Frances Coppola, former banker turned financial writer; Paul Gosling, independent finance columnist; Allison Roche, trade union officer at UNISON; Dave Boyle, consultant at Principle Six and journalist Andrew Bibby. Participants will also examine the current situation of the Co-operative Group, analysing the reforms proposed by Lord Myners.
Sir Graham is speaking at the conference having become “dismayed and discouraged” by the turn of events engulfing the Group and the startling deterioration in its financial situation and its governance in recent weeks. Inevitably, political capital is being made from it all in the media and elsewhere, but Sir Graham thinks it’s time to take stock and for board and management to seriously listen to and engage with each other.
“People generally care about the Co-op; it is a quintessentially British institution and its members and the public at large want it to survive and so do the Group’s many thousands of employees. A number of official reports on the Group have hit the headlines focussing on different aspects of recent financial mismanagement and strategic errors. They will not make negotiating a viable future for the businesses any easier unless there is a coming together and a meeting of minds of all the parties involved.”
According to Sir Graham, that will take some doing and his contribution will focus on that obligation called “co-operation”.
The conference is sponsored by CBC, East of England Co-op, Midcounties Co-operative and North West Housing Service.
Tickets for the event cost £40, including lunch and refreshments and can be purchased online. Bursary places are available for volunteers under 24 and co-operators based outside the UK. A late booking fee of £10 will be charged after 8 May.
• For more information and to book a place, visit: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/ways-forward-2-co-operative-renewal-tickets-11038096243