Members of the Channel Islands Co-operative called a special meeting to challenge the board over the closure of the society’s Jersey and Guernsey food depots.
The society intends to move its warehousing to a Co-operative Group distribution centre in Andover, Hampshire. The Guernsey site would close first, with Jersey following next summer. This would result in 23 redundancies in Guernsey and 68 in Jersey.
Society rules state that 50 members can call a special meeting. Around 500 members attended two meetings, on 18 and 19 November in Jersey and Guernsey. Of these, 237 members voted in support of the closure and 131 members voted against. A motion to consider a vote of no confidence in the board was also defeated, by 254 votes to 104. The consultation will continue, with the board’s decision on the closures due in January.
Chief executive Colin Macleod said the plan was part of a wider integrated commercial strategy and would save £12m, with a further £1m a year saved in costs. Said Mr Macleod: “Members turned up anxious to understand the rationale of the decision and, while it would be fair to say many were uncertain at the outset, the board reassured members they were acting in the best interest of our co-op.”
He added: “The members leading the campaign were concerned about job losses and, while they were disappointed with the result, they were grateful to board and executive for holding this public debate.
“I think it is a sign of strength that a community-owned organisation can have this sort of debate and it is a real endorsement of the co-op model that members can participate in major business decisions.”
Mr Macleod thinks the relocation could result in more jobs. “The society has been growing rapidly, opening five new stores with three more in the pipeline,” he said, adding that the co-op has diversified its pharmacy and funeral businesses and is doing the same in medical care.
The requisitioning of special general meetings by members is a normal part of the rulebooks of co-operative societies. According to the new Handbook of Co-operative and Community Benefit Society Law, edited by Ian Snaith: “Such a meeting can usually be called by the board of the society or by the requisition of either a proportion of the total membership or a fixed number of members.”
Helen Barber, head of co-operative advice at Co-operatives UK, said: “The right of a group of members to call special general meetings is one of the positive attributes of co-operative societies. This is the first case we are aware of among the consumer societies in the last five years.
“Co-operatives UK supports retail consumer societies with guidance and advice on the rules underpinning this. The board of the Channel Islands Co-operative Society deserves real credit for the care and responsible approach it has taken to member accountability on this sensitive issue.”