In an attempt to reduce costs, the Scotland and Northern Ireland region of the Co-operative Group proposed that elected members voluntarily reduce their committee fees by 10%. However, this motion was narrowly voted down by delegates.
Currently, elected members are paid fees that range from £2,000 on an area committee to £120,000 as the Group chair. Being on the regional board nets an extra £4,500, while a Group board director receives at least £11,574. Extra fees are provided when sitting on a subsidiary board or any other committee.
The motion said: “The Co-operative Group is undergoing significant financial constraints at the present time and is seeking to reduce costs within the business through Project Orion. We, the democratically elected members, agree to voluntarily undertake a cut in fees of 10% across all the tiers of our democracy from area committee to Group board.”
Moving the motion, Barbara Holligan, from the Scotland and Northern Ireland region, said: “This motion shows the co-operative value of solidarity, which will help us stand shoulder to shoulder with our colleagues. You will know in your hearts whether or not to support this motion.
“I’m not saying we must take a fees cut because we are to blame for the financial situation the Group is in.
“But it is wrong that people are losing their jobs and livelihoods because of mistakes. Not sharing in the financial pain will be wrong too. As custodians and members of this society, we need to help with the £500m cost savings that are needed.”
A response from the board said that in December 2013, the values and principles board considered reducing the fees of elected members, but said this would require agreement from a general meeting.
“The Group board endorses the importance of achieving substantial cost savings through Project Orion, by instilling greater discipline and controls across the Group in relation to cost management,” said the board.
“Significant savings need to be achieved – and are planned – across the cost base, including in relation to membership, democratic and social goals activity – for example, reduced expenditure on membership activity budgets, the cost of elections, co-operative subscriptions and personnel and administration. A change of culture and attitude in relation to cost management and the way we do business needs to be implemented in order to deliver sustainable cost savings. As any reduction in fees is likely to be temporary, it is unlikely to deliver the necessary cultural change.”
The board said it was unable to support the motion because it had to consider the wider implications for individuals.
Responding for the Group board, director Eric Calderwood said: “The board appreciates the gesture. We’ve argued against it and we do appreciate it. All I would argue is that, at the present moment, it’s not the ideal time to become focused on change in this way.”
The motion had 54% of votes against it. However, Chair Ursula Lidbetter said of the vote: “The spirit of the motion sends a good message to the public.”