Co-operative Group annual meeting to discuss governance and austerity measures

Delegates to the Co-operative Group’s annual meeting this month will be discussing austerity measures at the society, while a special meeting will deal with changes in governance. Motions...

Delegates to the Co-operative Group’s annual meeting this month will be discussing austerity measures at the society, while a special meeting will deal with changes in governance.

Motions submitted by regional boards of the Group will discuss a variety of “cost reduction” measures on 17 May in Manchester, from pay ratios and pay cuts to expenditure at the society.

The Scotland and Northern Ireland region calls on the Group board to research and adopt a policy on pay ratios by the November half-yearly-meeting to “tackle wider inequality”.

A response from the board said it is currently looking at an overall reward strategy that would be applicable across the whole Group, but it is not specifically looking at pay ratios since it needs to be able to compete with the market.

The same region also called for elected members to voluntarily take a cut in fees of 10% across all tiers of the structure. The Group board said such a decision needs a vote in a general meeting, and if this motion passes this stage, then a proposal will be looked at for the half-yearly-meeting.

The central and eastern region said it recognises the Group’s “serious financial situation” and submitted a motion saying that in times of austerity and potential redundancies, increases in remuneration for the executive should not occur. It also called for the London office to be reviewed.

A board response to the motion said: “Controlling costs is not an ‘austerity measure’, it is sound management. It is a standard requirement of any well-run business. Today, the Co-op does not manage its costs well. The processes, controls and systems of measurement are not performing well enough for us to be as efficient as we need to be.

“Ask any colleague member in the business and they will tell you about our overly complex, ineffective and broken processes and controls that they have to work with and manage every working day. This is something all our colleagues recognise.”

Central and eastern also submitted a motion, similar to one from the Wales region, that raised concerns about selling food items and providing funeral services that reflect local communities.

A response from the board said local and regional is one element of the True North strategy to differentiate its food offering, and predicted that, by this time in 2015, the Group would be recognised as a leading supporter of local and regional food producers.

Following the annual meeting, a special general meeting will ask delegates to agree to “high level fundamental principles” intended to form the basis of the Group’s future governance framework. With the Myners Review being used as inspiration, delegates are not being asked to vote on the final report, which will be presented before the meeting.

The full motion asks delegates to agree to reform that includes a highly competent and qualified board, ways for the membership to hold the board to account, a move to one-member-one-vote board elections and rules to prevent de-mutualisation.

The motion asks the meeting to agree to:

• The creation of a board of directors elected by members that is individually and collectively qualified to lead an organisation of the size and complexity of the Co-operative Group.

• The establishment of a structure that gives the Co-operative Group’s members appropriate powers to hold the board properly to account for the performance of the business and adherence to co-operative values and principles.

• A move to the concept of ‘one-member-one-vote’, with appropriate representation for independent co-operative societies.

• The inclusion of necessary provisions in the Rules for The Co-operative Group to protect against de-mutualisation.

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