A campaign is calling on the Co-operative Group to keep its values.
Keep it Co-op, an initiative from the Co-operative Party, aims to support the Group’s mission to change Britain for the better.
Following the appointment of Allan Leighton as the co-operative’s chair, the Party is also urging co-operators to debate the future of the co-op’s relationship with the Party.
Last year, the Group released the findings of its Have Your Say survey of shoppers and members, which looked at the co-op’s political connections. In it, 74% of members thought it was inappropriate for big businesses to donate money to political parties. Of those members who responded, only 36% were aware the Group supported the Co-operative Party.
During 2014, the Co-operative Group’s subscription to the Co-operative Party amounted to £625,600, according to Electoral Commission records. This year, under the new structure, all qualifying members who have spent more than £250 in 2014 will be allowed to vote on the issue.
Also in the survey, 60% of members specifically said it was inappropriate for the Group to sponsor the Co-operative Party, with 73% saying the money should be used to lower prices and 71% towards local community initiatives.
Last year, Midcounties Co-operative revealed that it was questioning its subscription to the party, which is sister to Labour. A poll carried out in 2013 said 26% of customers in the trading area intended to vote Labour, while another 26% supported the Liberal Democrats and 21% said they preferred the Conservatives.
Of those customers, only 6% had heard about the connection with the Co-op Party, which 25% said it would make them less likely to shop in its stores.
The Co-operative Party carried out its own polling in 2014, which asked: “To what extent do you think it is appropriate or inappropriate for The Co-operative Group, as a member, to make financial contributions to the Co-operative Party?”
Thirty per cent answered ‘very’ or ‘quite appropriate’, 46% had ‘no strong feelings either way’ and 12% felt it was ‘quite’ or ‘very inappropriate’. 12% ‘didn’t know’.
As part of the campaign, the Party calls on the Group to maintain its long-standing commitment to co-operative values and principles in letters to CEO Richard Pennycook.
Co-operative Party general secretary Karin Christiansen said: “By having an open and proud commitment to changing the world the Co-op Group has helped achieve many historic advances for consumers and society – and it can achieve so much more.
“Members support the Co-op Group’s vital role as a campaigning organisation and as a business that is fundamentally different. Ultimately, to be serious about a better society means engaging in politics and changing legislation.
“We want to start an exciting and constructive debate in which we will talk about everything the co-operative movement has achieved through direct political action and representation.
“Just as importantly, we want to look ahead to what co-ops can achieve in the future to change society and the economy, which is central to the original founding purpose of co-operative businesses.|
She added: “Looking ahead, we believe the Co-op should be supporting the radical reform of Britain’s economy so that more employees are able to share in the ownership, decision making and profits of Britain’s businesses.
“We believe Britain needs an energy revolution, with the majority of its electricity provided through renewable sources and more than half of this supply generated by community energy groups. We believe Network Rail should be set up as a mutual, giving passengers and employees a real say in how the railway is run.
“Ambitions like this require political action and we are calling on the Co-op Group Board to work with us to get the most out of the relationship.”
• To find out more about the campaign, visit: www.keepit.coop