Co-op College announces restructure to save costs and improve services

Measures including a streamlined management will deliver an expected 40% cut in running costs

The Co-operative College has announced the completion of a strategic review which will reduce its running costs by 40% in a drive for financial sustainability.

The move follows a challenging period for the College, including last year’s review by the Co-op Group of its support for the co-op movement’s core bodies, and the Covid-19 crisis.

The process, which began in summer 2020, involved a wholesale review of the College’s operations, led by its board of trustees, members of its senior
management team and concluded by John Chillcott following his appointment as interim CEO late last year.

Mr Chillcott says the changes will only reduce the College’s headcount by two people, but will see the senior management slimmed down to a CEO and three department heads.

Announcing the restructure, the College said the pandemic “has been challenging, but also a catalyst for new thinking about how the College operates and delivers on its mission”.

It promises “a stronger and more distinctive blended co-operative learning offer, inclusive of youth and adult education, combined with research, training and project work that reaches across the UK and to partners

Mr Chillcot said: “The challenges of 2020, coupled with the need to create a financially sustainable model, have meant that like many organisations, we’ve had to take decisive action to ensure we can continue our work
in communities across the UK and around the world.

“Inevitably, this has involved some very difficult decisions that impact many colleagues, all of whom have dedicated themselves in ensuring the College remains relevant over 100 years on from its creation.

“We are committed to supporting all colleagues through the transition and will continue to engage with the wider movement on our future plans
and their requirements.”

He told Co-op News that he and interim principal Cilla Ross would remain in place until the new structure has been successfully implemented.

The new regime will see the CEO backed by three department heads – business, projects and learning – to deliver a “tighter, more client- focused” operation.

“We’re making sure we maintain and improve delivery going forward, reducing internal focus and infrastructure,” said Mr Chillcott.

“The College has got to focus on objectives to benefit its clients. There was a cost issue to be dealt with; the headcount in the new structure is only two less than old structure but there is a saving of about 40% on running costs.”

He said it was too soon to give details of colleague changes while discussion continues with those affected. Other decisions still to be taken include the appointment of the new permanent chief executive.

The College is also still considering its future at its current HQ in Holyoake House, Manchester, said Mr Chillcott. “Like all businesses we’re reviewing our office requirements, based on the new normal, where work will be based in a blend of office and home. But we need a base and Holyoake House is certainly in the mix of places considered.”

All of the College’s current projects will continue and be completed, he said, and for future initiatives it is looking to firm up old partnerships and forge new ones, in the UK and internationally.

Plans for a co-op university project have been put on hold, he added. “We’re still keen but we need the right team in place.”

Mr Chillcott paid tribute to the colleagues at the College. “Everybody’s been very professional and delivered on their roles. Working from home is a challenge, and it’s made it even harder to be doing a restructure.”

The College now has “the fullest of opportunities in front of us,” he added, “because we’ve got a cost structure in place. The endowment fund is there for its proper purpose, we have committed people in place, and we have the right recruitment in place to take it forward.”

Its education offer will run from youth to adult – and now that the pandemic has made remote and online education more important, the digital element of its offer will be more significant than before.

Interim principal Cilla Ross said: “This process has come at a time when the
need for co-operative education has never been greater.

“Learning how to ‘do’ co-operation successfully, whether as an organisation, a leader, a team, or in a community, has a greater urgency than ever before as alternative work and business models emerge at this time of crisis.

“There have been some incredibly difficult decisions around the restructure that affect colleagues, all of whom have worked tirelessly over a number of years to take co-operative education to new audiences.”

“We now start work on the transition to the new structure by late April and I’m looking forward to revitalising the learning offer and the College becoming a focus of co-operative education globally.”

Chair of trustees Nigel Todd added: “The world we inhabit is changing and so we must adapt to remain relevant. We see an exciting future and a clear role for the College that requires us to make some fundamental changes.”