Governance and democracy in the Co-operative Group

Friday’s conference in Manchester, Ways forward for the Co-op Movement, was well attended and valuable, I thought.  I have just filed a piece about it for the Guardian’s Social Enterprise pages, and will draw your attention to it when it appears.  Well done to Co-operative Business Consultants for organising the day.

There was much discussion at Manchester of ways to improve the Co-operative Group’s governance and internal democracy including a number of quite radical ideas. It’s perhaps worth mentioning, therefore, that last Thursday (the day before the conference) saw the terms of reference published for the corporate governance enquiry which the Group itself has commissioned,  chaired by Lord Myners. You’ll find the press statement here.

Myners will be looking first at the Board structure, before moving on to consider ways to strengthen links with members.  Some people at Manchester thought that this is a back-to-front way of doing things:  shouldn’t you begin with member democracy, they asked?  So Myners’ eventual recommendations may well be contested territory.

My prediction on what is likely to emerge from Myners includes (a) a smaller Group Board (generally considered a good idea) and (b) much more use of non-elected non-executive directors, an altogether more controversial proposal.

I have argued before that,  following the Bank crisis last year, we’ve seen a growing attack (led by some MPs and some newspapers) on the very idea of cooperatives as member-controlled businesses.  Potentially the coop movement could be at risk of losing not just its Bank but the very core of its being.  The  Myners enquiry is as important as that.

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