Will Saturday’s vote on the overhaul of the Co-operative Group see a change of rules, or will there be a member revolt?
It was never going to be an easy task transforming Britain’s number one, especially coupled with the fact that these proposals are being put together by some of the people that oversaw the effective demutulisation of the Co-operative Bank.
(Not going over old ground because management were to blame too, plus there are now some new board members since the Britannia/Somerfield acquisitions too).
But to many individual members this comes across as altruism at its finest. Ursula Lidbetter hints at this too in an interview with the News by highlighting that in the past there has always been some form of compromise to, presumably, ensure members (or rather those members who are currently elected) are still in control.
Undeniably, the fragmented governance of the Group allowed opportunism from the few. Some of those elected members found it easy to dominate the agenda and control the votes on a small committee or regional board. But, in a room of 100 other councillors, they will find a surprise and co-operation will win the day.
And this same view that overall co-operation will be strengthened is coming out of the Group. So what will happen with the vote? The Group has strong support behind the proposals.
Co-operative lawyer Ian Snaith, who oversaw the formation of the new rules, has been a vocal and critical commentator throughout the Group’s crisis of the past 18 months. He has given it the legal sign off and highlighted the new areas of participation for members. And both the ICA’s Dame Pauline Green and Co-operatives UK’s Ed Mayo have accepted that while a different model for the UK, it still falls into the realm of being a co-operative when compared with other co-ops internationally.
It does strike fear into the hearts of co-operators who see this as a management takeover. (There are two executives on the board, and they are not on the nominations committee – it is split 3/3 between non-execs and members). But, we need to remind ourselves of the Kelly and Myners reviews. It didn’t look good for our elected representatives and the former management.
Both of those reports looked at a horrid culture and battle of the egos between executive and board. So is this the opportunity to unite the two factions and build a better co-op?
This is surely an experimentation with co-operation. And the global co-op world is watching with interest. But the best advice comes from ICA president Dame Pauline who says it is now up to the members, through the council, to ensure co-operation flows throughout the organisation.
And if it doesn’t quite work out, the rules can work in the favour of members. It’s not that difficult to get 500 votes to secure a special general meeting to reboot the Co-op again.