Six member-nominated directors were put forward for election by the Group’s members council, for three seats on the Group board. The transitional search committee decided to put forward only three of the six for ballot at the Group’s annual meeting in May. Sir Graham Melmoth, former Group CEO, is concerned with the interference with members’ rights.
The results reported by Co-operative Group chief executive Richard Pennycook are much better. It is good to see a steady improvement under his stewardship, but is there a touch of 1984 about his regime and its new constitution?
Are the “proles” to be kept at arm’s length? That’s how the new electoral system seems to appear. The second co-op principle says “co-operatives are democratic organisations controlled by their members. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to their members.”
There’s nothing in the principle about screening out “undesirables” before the members are allowed to decide on their representatives themselves – yet Pauline Green, president of the International Co-operative Alliance, has been eliminated as a prospective candidate, as has Nick Eyre, the much-admired former Group secretary, before being permitted to test their claims before the electorate.
Nick Folland, a former Kingfisher official, who is the now outgoing chief external affairs officer, and (like Nick Eyre) “a trained lawyer and experienced company secretary”, argues in an interview with the current ICSA Governance & Compliance magazine that “retaining the voice of the ordinary person – the owner of the institution in the governance system and the boardroom – is important but it should not be allowed to dominate”. Of course. But is this a euphemism for keeping talented co-operative members off the ballot paper?
It is convenient and perhaps understandable that the new executive team parachuted at great expense into the chaos at the Group in 2013 to portray what they found then as evidence of many years’ standing and that simply is not the case!
I was an official of the Co-operative Wholesale Society during 1975–2002, having worked in three well known public companies before that. There was much about the organisation to be admired, quite apart from its major businesses in several industries, and its bank and insurer, together with effective finance and secretariat functions.
The CWS could not, for example, have withstood the assault upon it nor turned the tables on Andrew Regan in 1997 had it been as incompetent as it progressively became following the merger with United Co-ops ten years later.
So we should not re-write history as an excuse to interfere with members’ rights to elect as their representatives “ordinary” co-operators in good standing, nominated in good faith. That does not seem like any co-operative principle I am familiar with.
- Read further responses to the member-nominated directors elections process from Dame Pauline Green, president of the International Co-operative Alliance, and Allan Leighton, current Group chair.