As the Co-operative Group’s council president Lesley Reznicek challenged chair Allan Leighton to “trust” and “work more co-operatively” she revealed that a solution has been found following a week of elections controversy.
Last week, the Midcounties Co-operative, which is an independent member, threatened the Group with an injunction to void the member nominated director election following “concern” over the process. Six candidates were selected by the members’ council, but the transitional search committee, which is headed by Group chair Allan Leighton, rejected three candidates for a lack of “commercial acumen“.
In response to this, Ms Reznicek said an agreement had been reached. “This will be a joint process going forward,” she said. “So we can all work on recruitment and selection. We will have proper contested elections and we will have a fourth member nominated director.”
She told the annual meeting that this is a “win-win situation”. And she said that the three candidates standing for election – Hazel Blears, Ruth Spellman and Paul Chandler – are people the council wanted on the ballot.
Ms Reznicek outlined that the new process will be jointly developed by the board and council, which includes representative from independent society members.
In a statement, the Group said the key elements of the deal are:
- A clearer application and sifting process to encourage more participation in elections;
- A structured assessment event run jointly by the board and council, with advice from a professional search firm;
- Joint board and council agreement on final selection of candidates to go forward on the ballot paper;
- The creation of an Academy that will develop members in the skills and understanding needed to become a board director, in order to build a talent pool of future candidates.
- Creation of a fourth MND within six months
In a press release, Lesley Reznicek said: “The member nominated director process is a crucial part of the new governance arrangements. Going forward, it is critical that the selection and recruitment process for MNDs is enhanced, jointly owned by the board and council and leads to contested elections. The new process will achieve not only this but also give us a fourth member nominated director.
“The senate of the council worked hard to achieve this outcome on behalf of the council and the members. For the future, we must build on this by continuing to listen to each other and work together to rebuild the Society and strengthen our co-operative difference. This is a truly historic day for members of the Co-operative Group.”
Chair Allan Leighton said: “The governance changes agreed by members last year have created a fledgling democracy for the Co-op. It’s moving in the right direction but we are still finding our way and recognise that we need to do some things differently. We have listened carefully to feedback from members on the current MND process and I’m pleased that we have now agreed a way forward with the council and independent societies which will maintain our fundamental principle of appointing suitably qualified and experienced directors while encouraging greater participation in future contested elections.”
At the meeting, Lesley Reznicek said that going forward the council must be more closely involved in decisions, rather than commenting after the fact. She said: “To be a successful co-operative you must think about the co-operative difference when making any decision first.”
She said “we need to work more co-operatively” in future and that “co-operating is when we work together with the other party” towards a “win-win solution”.
She added: “One of our key roles is to hold the board to account. The establishment of a structure that gives members appropriate powers to hold the board properly to account for the performance of the business and adherences too co-operative values and principles.”
“The importance of building trust is the key to success,” she added. In saying so she challenged the chair to work more co-operatively.
Allan Leighton said: “This is a challenge that we will accept with good grace, it is something that we want to work together.”