Annual general meetings: What are UK retail societies doing?

Societies are either postponing their meetings or hosting them online, in accordance with the Covid-19 lockdown

As AGM season nears for UK retail societies, how are organisations approaching such meetings during lockdown?

To put the health and safety of colleagues and members first, some are postponing events until later in the year, some are holding virtual meetings, and others are doing a combination of the two. 

Central England has committed to an online AGM in June, with the date and details to be confirmed.

Chelmsford Star is postponing its AGM until 5 October (when it would usually hold its half-yearly meeting) but is still having elections and announcing its new annual charity partner in May.

East of England‘s Annual Members Meeting has been postponed “until such time that it’s safe for our members and colleagues to come together”. Elections are also postponed, with dates to be confirmed, but this will be no later than November 2020.

Heart of England has postponed its AGM until 1 October 2020.

Lincolnshire Co-operative, due to its different financial year, usually holds its AGM towards the end of November. The society is monitoring the situation, with dates to be confirmed nearer the time.

Midcounties is holding its AGM online on Saturday 16 May (10am-12pm) and will be using technology that offers members the ability to ask questions and vote during the event. 

Radstock is postponing its AGM, which normally takes place in June, to November.

Scotmid‘s AGM has been postponed until September / October, when the society usually holds a half-yearly Ordinary General Meeting, if the situation allows.

Southern is postponing its AGM from May until the autumn, dependent on current restrictions, and is keeping the situation under review, communicating regularly with members. 

Tamworth is postponing its AGM until later in the year, with a date to be confirmed

The Co-op Group is postponing its AGM to 6 June. There will be a formal meeting convened in its Manchester head office, attended by members of the executive team and eligible colleague members (using social distancing measures) to meet governance requirements outlined in its Rules. Other directors will join remotely and, technology permitting, members will be able to follow the event live via YouTube. Videos, presentations and updates will be made available on its website and via a dedicated AGM app on the day.

Does my society have to hold an AGM?

The Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 and Companies Act 2006 do not require co-ops registered under them to have an AGM – but they may be a requirement of an organisation’s governing document. Co-operatives UK is recommending co-ops hold electronic AGM wherever possible – or to consult with its members if a postponement may result in a rules breach. See for further details.

A new way of working

“I never thought I would say to our members that they should not attend our AGM, but that is what I am doing,” said Co-op Group chair, Allan Leighton, in a letter to members.

“Unless both the coronavirus situation and the government guidance have materially changed by the date of the meeting, we are asking [members] not to turn up. To do so would breach the government’s ‘stay at home’ measures […] Taking care of our members and each other is our key priority right now. We believe this is the right thing to do in the current situation and is in line with our values and principles.”

While members may not attend in person, eligible members should still exercise their right to vote, said Mr Leighton. “By having your say, you get to tell us about the Co-op you’d like to be part of. Members shape the way we do business, as well as elect our directors and Members’ Council candidates. Your voice makes a difference.”

He added that the Co-op Group is currently exploring plans for its Join in Live events scheduled for the autumn, which connect Co-op Group representatives with local causes, communities and co-operators.

Am I eligible?

Co-op Group members are eligible to vote on AGM motions and elections if they spent £250 in Food or by trading with another Co-op business in 2019. Members can check their eligibility by emailing [email protected] or calling 0800 0686 727; eligible members can then vote online at using the voting codes printed in their voting packs, which they should receive by 13 May by email or post. Voting is open from 4 May to 1 June; the Group is also asking members to submit any questions they have to [email protected] by midday on 1June. 

Co-op Group Motions 2019: what happened next?

In his letter, Mr Leighton also updated members on 2019 activity. Last year the organisation delivered £17m to over 4,000 local causes and had been proactive on the key motions passed at the 2019 AGM

On the back of a motion calling for increased support for Fairtrade products, the Group launched an advertising campaign that focused on the difference Fairtrade chocolate makes to people and the planet; increased visibility of Fairtrade products in-store (offers, radio, magazine and labelling); and created a webpage that helps shoppers find Fairtrade products and businesses.

Another motion saw Co-op Group members vote in favour of maintaining levels of investment in technology and security measures to keep colleagues safe. Since then, it has rolled out Intelligent CCTV to more stores; is supporting colleagues with training on abuse and anti-social behaviour; commissioned research with the University of London to produce the first study into this area of crime; and persuaded the government to issue a Call for Evidence on retail crime and abuse.

On responsible sourcing, the organisation has pledged to reduce its direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2025; has started to share its key 30 ingredients and activity around them online; and is working with Chester Zoo to replant 5,000 trees on a former palm oil plantation, among others.

Co-op Group motions 2020: what are members voting for?

Co-op Group members will be asked to vote on 12 motions this year, including three submitted by independent societies and the Members’ Council. 

The Members’ Council motion recognises the Co-op Group’s active position in the fight against climate change but calls on it to do more to address this issue on global and local levels. “Our planet is facing a climate emergency and we need to accelerate our actions to address the potentially catastrophic effects this will cause to our businesses, our supply chains, our communities and future generations,” reads the motion. 

Independent societies submitted two motions, the first on ethical retailing. While it may be a leader in this area, the Co-op Group is being asked to build on the launch of its vegan range, GRO, by focusing its future strategy on “what matters most to customers when they’re shopping, such as animal welfare, environmental impacts and healthy eating”.

The second independent society motion looks at the Co-op Group’s role in supporting the wider UK co-operative movement. The motion “welcomes the positive role that the Co-operative Group has played in the wider co-operative movement over many years”, and calls for the board and the National Members’ Council to confirm their ongoing support for the “organisational infrastructure necessary for a growing and thriving co-operative economy”. This includes “the provision of independent news and comment, co-operative education and training, heritage and international development work, as well as policy, finance, legal and governance advice”. 

Alongside the motions, members will also be asked to vote for a member-nominated director. This year, there are three candidates standing for one position, who will be elected for three years: David Jones; Margaret Casely-Hayford; and Angela Luger. There are also 168 candidates standing for places on the Group’s National Members’ Council, across 12 regions.