Last month, the Co-operative Group saw 93 members elected to its council. Of those, 50 were new members and a further 26 had not been involved in the Group’s democratic structure at all.
“The council is made up of individual trading members and representatives of Independent Society members – both are the lifeblood of the Co-operative Group,” said the council’s interim secretary, Andrew North, adding that the council needed a balance of new people and those with experience.
In terms of gender balance, the council includes 31 female and 62 male members. Five BAME candidates were also elected to the council. Another seven co-optees are due to join soon, which will address some diversity issues. To qualify, candidates must have been members of the Group for at least three years and seriously trade with the Co-operative.
“The council is made up of great people. However, it does not reflect our membership, especially in terms of gender,” said Mr North. “We need to develop our diversity strategy and implement actions, to encourage more people to seek election from those groups, which are under-represented currently. Members will decide who they vote for.”
Ten employees were also elected to the council and one member under the age of 25 was co-opted from the Co-operative Young Members’ Board.
“The new council has had only one meeting straight after the AGM. We have to look forward to future meetings and make it a valuable experience for all and group as a whole,” said Mr North.
New members at the first meeting include Ruth Barrow from Bicester, just outside Oxford. She was elected for the South East region.
“When I saw the news about the new members council I decided to stand,” she said. “I read all the stuff on the internet and followed in the news and thought it was important for various of people to get involved. I thought it would be a difficult job to ensure the Co-op survived and I had the time available and felt I had an obligation to get involved. It’s very easy to criticise from outside.
“So I wanted to try to be more positive in my support.”
Semi-retired Ruth had a long career in IT, with roles including systems analyst, project manager and customer portfolio manager. She is also governor of a primary school in Bicester.
“Since I stopped work I’ve been looking to get more involved in the community and in things that interest me. I’ve known the Group for quite a number of years. The company that I worked for was a supplier for the Co-operative Financial Services so I did a lot of work with them,” she says.
For three years Ruth was also part of the Coventry Building Society Members’ Council, where she represented members in discussions with senior executives. She joined the Group as a customer of the Co-operative Bank over 10 years ago, and has been a customer of the insurance, pharmacy and funeral businesses.
Describing her first council meeting, she said: “The first meeting was an eye opener. I felt as if I was coming in to watch a play after the first interval. Everybody else knew what was going on and I was playing catch up. It was very interesting, a lot of very intelligent arguments, a debate on what we should be doing, what we need to be aware of, things I had not considered.
“I didn’t expect to be elected, so I realise that I have to put a lot of effort and work in to get where some of my colleagues are. I’m sure they will help me – people could not be nicer.”
• To see who’s who on the council, visit: www.co-operative.coop/membership/its-your-business/member-council-elections/