Myners quits: is this the beginning of the end for the Co-operative Group?

The former Labour City minister brought in to save the Co-op has stepped down. Doesn't look good, does it.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 24 Jun 2015

So another one has bitten the dust: Lord Myners, the man installed on the board of the Co-operative Group by the Co-operative Group to come up with ways save it has done one, to use appropriately northern parlance. His resignation comes almost exactly a month after Euan Sutherland, the group’s chief executive, quit, calling it ‘ungovernable’.

It sounds like Myners had been under increasing pressure since Sutherland stepped down: apparently his preliminary report, which was published three days after Sutherland quit, was rushed out.

But it turned out the Co-operative’s membership didn’t like the report: they took exception to the idea that its board should take a far more PLC-esque format. Instead of the 20 elected directors it currently has (who include a nurse and a publisher), he suggested two boards: one with six or seven non-executive directors and two execs from the group, and one advisory board, made up of elected members.

It’s easy to say the Co-operative is, as Sutherland said, ungovernable. But members would argue that both he and Myners missed the point: it isn’t an ordinary company and therefore shouldn’t be treated as such. In their view, Myners missed a trick: you can’t fix a Co-operative in the way you’d fix an ailing PLC.

Either way, it didn’t sound like Myners’ ideas were going to get much support: Midcounties, the Co-op’s largest independent society, which accounts for 20% of board votes, said it won’t vote in favour of the plans.

But by alienating Myners, it's very probable the Co-op board has chucked the baby out with the bathwater. Its creditors and investors – which, lest we forget, are mainly hedge funds these days – probably won’t be very impressed.

There have been suggestions that banks could take the view that you have to be cruel to be kind – and split it up. To be fair, the company has already tried to placate them by saying it will sell off its farms (definitely) and its pharmacies (probably). But - rightly or wrongly - the hedgies will only hang on for as long as they can see a possibility of making money. After that, they'll get out.

The good news is that a report published this morning by posh estate agent Knight Frank reckons farmland prices have just broken the £7,000 per acre barrier for the first time ever. That’s one way to make some dosh…

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