A big announcement has just come through today from the Co-operative Group. Len Wardle, the current Chair of the Group’s Board of Directors, has resigned with immediate effect and is being replaced by Ursula Lidbetter.
Len Wardle had already announced that he would be stepping down, but had previously suggested that this would take place in Spring next year. Given recent events regarding Paul Flowers (who of course was the Bank Chair, not the Group Chair), today’s announcement makes very good sense. I view it as positive news.
Firstly it’s helpful that the Group (which has a board which is still male dominated) now has a female Chair. It’s also, I think, encouraging that the Group has had the confidence to appoint someone from within the movement. Ursula Lidbetter is chief executive of the Lincolnshire Co-operative Society, a society which has a reputation for being well-run and having strong links with its local community. She already chairs the Group’s subsidiary Food Board and was Len Wardle’s deputy on the main Board.
Is this the moment to remind you about the Co-op Group’s somewhat complicated governance? I think it is. The Group is best described as a multi-stakeholder cooperative, a legacy of the fact that the old Co-operative Wholesale Society, a secondary coop, was one of its predecessor bodies. The seven million of us who are the individual members of the Co-operative Group (with our yellow membership cards) elect – indirectly –fifteen of the twenty Group Board members. The other five on the Board represent Britain’s remaining independent coop societies (including the Lincolnshire).
It’s probably time incidentally that the Board became rather smaller in size.