There are two comments to my post on Saturday on the Phone Co-op AGM which (because of the way WordPress tucks them away in the left hand margin) you may miss.
The first is from Amanda Davis, who has had problems leaving a comment due to the adverts which WordPress imposes, which of course I have no control over. I have wondered for some time whether the adverts are an issue, and whether I should get them removed (the only way to do this, of course, being to pay WP extra money myself). I already pay WP for the bibbyoncooperatives.org domain, and am loath to contribute too much more to a US multinational, but if people feel this is a problem or if the adverts (which I don’t see) are inappropriate or offensive, then please let me know.
The second comment is a very interesting one from Martin Meteyard, about the nature of members’ capital in the Phone Co-op and whether it should be treated as risk capital or simply some form of quasi- building society savings. Martin raises a highly significant question and one which as he says the recent debates at the Phone Co-op haven’t brought out. The question needs discussing.
The members of the Phone Co-op have overwhelmingly voted to transfer engagements to Midcounties Co-op – or, to put it bluntly, to be taken over. It’s a move (which admittedly now has to be formally ratified at a second SGM) I personally think is the right decision. The SGM in Sheffield was well organised and good humoured. The main vote was 202 in favour and 17 against.
I took part remotely, using live streaming and an online voting facility. Well done to the Phone Co-op for making this possible. There were, it is true, technical glitches but they were overcome.
This was an interesting experience for me, the first time I have participated remotely at a co-op general meeting. It is, I think, much better if at all possible to attend an event like this in person – there’s a commitment involved which isn’t necessarily there is you’re sitting at home online at risk of all sorts of other distractions (I had to momentarily dip out of proceedings when a friend came round wanting to use my printer for an emergency printing job for his youth group…) There’s a need for some etiquette for online participants too. Some people (in usual social media style) were passing running comments (not always complimentary) as speakers were in mid-flow, and I’m not sure this is something which we should encourage.
But participating online did mean I could attend an AGM of a local coop I’m involved in at 11am this morning and still be enfranchised for the Phone Co-op meeting. So – good work.
Rootstock occupies its own special (and important) niche in the British coop world, taking in money from supportive investors and investing the capital in radical cooperative ventures, particularly housing coops. The Spring newsletter from Rootstock has just arrived through my letter box, and I see it’s also available online, here. Worth a peruse.
I can’t get to Sheffield on April 28th for the Special General Meeting of the Phone Co-op, but I have today registered to participate (and vote) at the event online. It’s commendable that the Phone Co-op makes this facility available (although I guess that you’d expect a telecoms business to be able to organise this, if anyone could).
The SGM is pretty significant. There’s a proposal on the table for the Phone Co-op to merge itself into Midcounties Co-operative, one of Britain’s regional independent coop societies. (The technical coop term is a ‘transfer of engagements’).
Midcounties has a deserved reputation both for its commitment to cooperation and member democracy and for running an effective business. As well as its retail stores in a large chunk of the south Midlands and Welsh borders, Midcounties also runs the Co-operative Energy subsidiary as well as a national network of childcare nurseries. It’s demonstrated, I think, that coops can be coops but also business-savvy when necessary.
I’ve written in the past of the importance of the Phone Co-op, Britain’s only significant independent consumer coop of the past twenty years. I’m afraid, though, that I am not convinced that the current Board’s quite risky business strategy for the coming years – if the Phone Co-op was to continue alone – will keep the business viable. I see that the Board is itself arguing for support of the Midcounties proposal.
So my view is that Midcounties will be a very good fit for the Phone Co-op. (In fact, you could go so far as to argue that Phone Co-op members are fortunate that Midcounties has been prepared to get involved.) We’ll see what member democracy decides in less than two weeks.