Co-operative Group calls on members to decide political expenditure

The Co-operative Group has published a list of 13 motions that it will address at its annual meeting on Saturday 16 May, including motions submitted by eligible members, following changes...

The Co-operative Group has published a list of 13 motions that it will address at its annual meeting on Saturday 16 May, including motions submitted by eligible members, following changes to its governance structure last year.

Motions submitted for consideration required 100 signatures from eligible members – those who spent more than £250 with the Co-operative Group in 2014. Four members motions will be voted on by eligible members at this year’s meeting, including one addressing political donations.

The motion requests the approval of “political expenditures, not to exceed £1 million per annum, that support the objectives of the co-operative movement”, which would include the membership subscription to the Co-operative Party.

“As co-operatives we are formed and run by people who work together to meet common economic, social, and cultural needs,” reads the motion, adding that the Co-operative Party “has worked, since it was formed by over 100 co-operatives in 1917, to ensure that co-operators are represented in our democracy at every level, by promoting co-operation in social and political debates as well as in policy and legislation.”

The Party is currently funded by its member co-operatives societies including the Co-operative Group, and by people who are Party members. According to Electoral Commission records, the Co-operative Group’s subscription to the Co-operative Party amounted to £625,600 in 2014.

The Party launched its Keep in Co-op campaign in February, supporting the Group’s mission to change Britain for the better and calling on it to to maintain its long-standing commitment to co-operative values and principles. It also urged co-operators to debate the future of the Group’s relationship with the Party.

However, the board has remained neutral on this motion, saying it is “looking to members to determine the society’s policy on political donations”. This stance is echoed in one of the board’s own motions put forward which contains a series of questions on the issue: Should the society make any donations to political parties?; Should the society only make donations to the Co-operative Party?; and Should the society make donations across a range of political parties?

These questions follow the findings of last year’s 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.

When questioned further 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.

In a separate poll by the Co-operative Party, 30% of respondents thought it was ‘very’ or ‘quite’ appropriate for the Co-operative Group, as a member, to make financial contributions to the Co-operative Party. Forty-six per cent had ‘no strong feelings either way’ and 12% felt it was ‘quite’ or ‘very inappropriate’. 12% ‘didn’t know’.

“For almost 100 years, the Co-operative Party working with co-operatives, like the Co-operative Group, has made the case for a more co-operative Britain where power and wealth are more evenly shared,” said Karin Christiansen, general secretary of the Party. “Together we have created the conditions which have seen co-operatives outperform the wider economy since the financial crisis. Members of the Co-op have the chance to vote to maintain vital this relationship and keep the Co-operative at the heart of this fight.”

Another member motion covers the Group’s purpose, which was announced at the organisation’s special general meeting in August last year as ‘Championing a better way of doing business for you and your communities’. The motion suggests the statement was introduced “without the involvement of, or endorsement of, individual members and independent societies”.

“In the light of the democratic reforms leading to the creation of the members’ council, which has the role of guardian of the society’s purpose, this meeting expects the board to work together with the members’ council to agree a new purpose statement reflecting the unrivalled capacity of co-operatives to empower individuals and communities to work towards providing practical solutions and meet their common aspirations together through mutual and collective action.”

The board has recommended that members vote agains the motion, stating that the purpose, which was re-defined “in conjunction with the democratically elected representatives of individual members and the nominated representatives of independent societies” was “incorporated in the new rules of the society which were overwhelmingly approved by members in August 2014.” It added that the “purpose is driving the whole of the Group’s turnaround programme.”

Co-operative Group branding and marketing is also covered by a members motion, as is a request for commitment to Fairtrade, both of which the board supports in principle.

Additional motions from the board will seek the approval of the directors’ remuneration report and approve fees of Council Members, the re-appointment of KPMG LLP as the society’s auditors, and the election of Richard Pennycook, Sir Christopher Kelly and Allan Leighton to the Group board.

• The full motions and supporting notes are available at www.co-operative.coop/motions2015

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