Belfast Telegraph

Radical reform proposals for Co-op to be tested with ballot

By John-Paul Ford Rojas

The Co-operative group is facing resistance over radical reform proposals as it prepares to face a key vote on the changes within days.

Reforms drawn up in the wake of a disastrous period when it racked up record £2.5bn annual losses will be put to the ballot at a special general meeting on Saturday.

An earlier poll saw the key principles behind the reforms win unanimous backing at a meeting in May, but opponents seeking to gather support ahead of the new vote say they are "directly opposed to the co-operative principle of democratic member control".

The changes to the food-to-funerals group's constitution will require the backing of a two-thirds majority. At their heart are plans for a slimmed-down board of 11 directors with "high standards of competence" to oversee the running of the group.

The proposals were produced following a review by former City minister Lord Myners, though they watered down his recommendation to purge the board of elected directors, instead opting to keep three directors chosen by the group's membership.

The rest of the board would consist of an independent chairman, five independent non-executive directors and two executive directors, including the chief executive.

But more than 400 people have now signed an online petition to reject the changes "until they are fully consistent with co-op values and principles and open to future change on a 'one member one vote' basis".

The petition, launched by Co-operative Business Consultants, claims the support of film director Ken Loach. An assistant to Mr Loach was yet to respond after being contacted to confirm his support.

It says: "The proposal that the board should be composed in its majority of 'independent' directors is directly opposed to the co-operative principle of democratic member control.

"Equally, the proposal that such directors should simply be subject to ratification by members rather than standing in an open election, is not consistent with genuine co-operative democracy.

"The operation of a nominations committee should ensure that a board made up of a majority of candidates drawn from and nominated by members would be suitably competent and qualified."

Signatories also say they are "alarmed" by a rule change preventing members from making further changes to the governance of the group, without the agreement of the board and, they say, "tying the hands of members for generations". However, others say the changes do not go far enough. Lord Myners has said they fall short of his proposals but acknowledged they "represent significant progress in the right direction".

The Institute of Directors said in response to the plans, published earlier this month, that without an entirely independent board "there remain concerns about how much independent oversight the board will be able to exercise".

The proposals also include establishing a 100-member council to act as guardian of the group's values and to hold the board to account, as well as a move to 'one member one vote' on key matters such as the election of directors and major transactions.

Belfast Telegraph