Petition to Save the UK Co-operative Group

Call to International Cooperators
Co-operative Business Consultants

[Editor's note: Jo Bird of the UK's Co-operative Business Group (CBC), has asked GEO to share this petition with our readers (see below).  The Co-operative News recently published an article about the petition.  Marie-Claire Kidd explains:

A petition objecting to proposed changes to Co-operative Group governance has launched online. The Save Our Co-op petition calls on Ursula Lidbetter, the Group’s chair, to reject “undemocratic” proposals until they are consistent with co-operative values and principles, as laid down by the International Co-operative Alliance.

It also urges the Group to be open to future change by members exercising one member one vote, without requiring the agreement of the board and/or council. Jo Bird of Co-operative Business Consultants, which started the petition, said: “The current board of the Co-operative Group wants to change its constitution so that it’s less democratic.

“It wants a majority board of independent directors who are not subject to open elections, whereas we want the Co-operative Group to be like co-operatives all over the world and to have a board with the majority made up of people elected by its members. We also want the future of the constitution of the Group to be able to be changed by future members.”

You can read the full article here.]

Cooperators from outside the UK are welcome to sign the petition.

CBC LAUNCHES PETITION TO REJECT CO-OPERATIVE GROUP REFORMS

Co-operative Business Consultants ( CBC ) is urging rejection of the proposed changes in governance which are to be put to a Special General Meeting of The Co-operative Group on 30 August.

CBC believes that the proposed new Rules – which are not open to amendment – enshrine practices which fundamentally contradict the basic principles of the co-operative movement.

Particular concerns are

  • the provision that “the Board shall always have a majority of Independent Non-Executive Directors” – who will not be subject to open election by the members; and
  • the imposition of a rule (118.6) which hinders members from making any future changes to the governance of their co-operative.

CBC believes that a co-operative run by a Board which in its majority is ‘independent’ of its members is a contradiction in terms.

We agree that it is important to have a Nominations Committee to ensure that all Board candidates are competent to oversee a business of this size and complexity. But there must be plenty of suitably qualified individuals among the several million members of the Group who could be put forward for this role. Any remaining skills gaps could be covered by an ability to co-opt one or two additional Board members.

CBC welcomes the proposal to introduce one member one vote (subject to a trading qualification) into future governance arrangements, but finds it ironic that ordinary members have been given no say in this process.

Furthermore, the proposed new Rule 118.6 severely restricts the future ability of members to make any changes to governance without the agreement of the Board. CBC members regard this as completely unacceptable in terms of member control.

CBC is concerned that these changes are being externally driven, compromising the co-operative principle of ‘autonomy and independence’. We understand that elected members have been advised that “the Group’s banking syndicate need assurance that the Group will implement significant governance changes, otherwise they could choose to raise the interest rate and/or impose more stringent conditions, including control rights”.

While this is a very real threat, it can only be resisted by a direct appeal to members, reinforcing their ownership rights. We urge rejection of the proposed changes unless and until they can be suitably amended. Members of The Co-operative Group and of the wider co-operative movement are encouraged to sign the petition at www.change.org/p/save-our-co-op

NB. Early signatories include Ken Loach, film director, Iain Macdonald, former Director General of the International Cooperative Alliance, and David Thompson, Twin Pines Cooperative.

 

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