Two boards, one vote: Co-operative Group sets out its rescue plan

After months of consultation, the company has finally unveiled its rescue plan. It has kind of, but not quite, taken Lord Myners' recommendations.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 17 Jun 2015

It's been a troubling year for the Co-op Group: what with the Crystal Methodist, the exits (in quick succession) of its its chief executive and Lord Myners, the man in charge of turning it around, and then the discovery of another big hole in its balance sheet (this time PPI-related), serious questions have been been raised as to whether it can continue as a going concern.

But the Co-op will soldier on, it said this morning - albeit in a radically different form. After months of consultations (and having made a bit of extra cash by selling off its farms and pharmacy arms), the group set out its rescue plan this morning.

The good news is that it's taken Myners' advice about its board. He wanted to reduce the board from its current, unwieldy, 18 to a few executive and non-executive directors, creating a separate board for members, although there were worries his ideas were 'too plc'.

The Co-op has vaguely listened, in that it's decided to cut the number of board members to nine, including a chairman, five independent non-execs and the chief exec - but also 'three member-nominated directors'. It did caveat that with the fact that 'all board directors will be expected to meet... high standards of competence' - but that should go without saying. With members on the board, it's almost-but-not-quite adhering to Myners' proposals.

In addition to the board, the Co-op's structure will also include a 100-strong 'council', with 'the power to hold the board to account', plus a senate, elected by the council, which will 'act as a nexus for interactions between the council, the board, the executive and members'. The worry is that the senate (very Star Wars) could end up with too much power over the board - and then we'll be back where we started.

The other big change announced by the company is 'one member, one vote'. At the moment, some members are more powerful than others, but the Co-op said the new structure will 'allow members to vote on matters concerning the group's future, including the election of directors'.

Members will vote on the reforms at the company's annual general meeting on August 30. The Co-op's current chairman, Ursula Lidbetter, said the reforms are the 'final crucial step in delivering the necessary change to restore the group and return it to health'.

'This has been a process built on co-operation, focusing above all on creating a society where every member has a voice in shaping the group's future,' she added.

What of the search for a new chief executive? Euan Sutherland resigned in March after details of his pay were leaked online, and although there have been hints the search for a replacement could start 'in the summer', so far there's no news. Now the Co-op has set out its rescue plan, finding someone who can lead the group as it reforms needs to be the next big priority. Otherwise it risks getting caught up in politics again.

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