THE BLOG
19/05/2014 10:41 BST | Updated 19/07/2014 06:59 BST

Co-operative Group Members Are Committed to Reform

Casual observers of the recent travails of the Co-operative Group could have been forgiven for expecting Saturday's AGM and 'Special' General Meeting to play out like a bad day in Albert Square. It's true that at times the last few months have felt a bit like a soap opera.

Yet despite all the headlines about the Co-op being 'ungovernable' and that the 'turkeys would never vote for Christmas', Saturday's meeting was a thoughtful, sober and business-like occasion which ended in a unanimous vote in favour of significant governance reform.

Members will continue to have a range of views about the precise rule changes that should be made but there can be no doubt that there is a real commitment to change and that the caricature of co-op activists as dinosaurs in denial is wide of the mark.

Ursula Lidbetter, the current Group Chair, and Richard Pennycook its interim Chief Executive, in particular must get credit for paving the way for this significant act of unanimity. By listening and adopting a consensual tone they have laid the foundations for a process of reform which can command the trust and confidence of the vast majority of members, ending the soap opera - hopefully for good.

Richard Pennycook told the AGM that recent polling was showing that the bad headlines of late have damaged sales - with 1 in 4 now less likely to patronise a Co-op shop. Research by trade body Co-ops UK shows that the public's trust in co-ops in general has been diminished, albeit it from a very high base. So, it is vital that we use Saturday's vote to turn the page and change the story.

Two things really matter now. Restoring the nation's largest co-operative to health, securing the jobs of thousands of employees; and seizing the opportunity that comes from an increased public profile to make the case for co-operative forms of business and service delivery, which have never been more needed.