Compromise on the cards at the Co-op Group

“Take my proposals in their entirety or you’re doomed.”  I am exaggerating Paul Myners’ ultimatum to the Co-operative Group’s Board on corporate governance reform earlier this year, but only slightly.

We now know that Myners’ proposal for a Co-op Group board full of the usual sort of independent non-executive directors is likely to be sweetened by a small number of places left open for representatives of ‘ordinary’ members (… as I predicted here at the time of the Co-op Group’s AGM).  Whether a handful of ‘democrats’ can adequately prevent the Group for heading off in the same direction as all those building society boards notionally accountable to their members is debateable, but my prediction this time is that the compromise will be accepted.

What’s disappointing is that the presence of ‘ordinary’ people on the Co-op Board’s has been seen (pace Myners) as a problem.  It could and should be seen as just the opposite – as potentially giving the Group a competitive business edge over non-cooperative competitors.  (Admittedly, I accept that that word ‘potentially’ is necessary in this assertion).

I think we can now start to make an early assessment of Myners’ contribution to the Group during his short time on the Board. I fear that my verdict would be a negative one. I think Myners was too hidebound by his experience of traditional finance sector Boards and their way of doing corporate governance, and too autocratic in the way he approached his task at the Group.  This is a pity: a leader with more sensitivity to cooperative heritage and culture could have led the movement towards taking a historically momentous step towards a more accountable and democratic way of operating.

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