After a turbulent 18 months, the recent changes to the Co-op Group’s rules were no great shock. But, argues JACK STREET, the new structure could lead to funding problems for the Co-op Party in years to come.
The recent decision of the Special General Meeting of the Co-operative Group to vote for a completely new rule book was not too surprising. Faced with intensive management pressure for change, indirect threats from its banking syndicate and haunted by a deep sense of collective failure after the uniquely damaging revelations of the past 18 months, most of the Group’s regions and corporate members voted reluctantly for radical change.
The composition of the Group board will now change to one that is largely made up of independent professional non-executives, appointed in the first instance, and then subsequently subject to election, supervised by a 100-strong elected members’ council and senate.
How far the Council can exercise genuine influence and what this will amount to remains to be seen. The existing regional boards will disappear at the end of the year and the area committees are to be significantly downgraded.
On the other hand, individual members will for the first time have the right to attend the annual meeting and the threshold for the submission of motions is low, which may well attract an interesting range of single issue pressure groups.
In effect, what has been pushed through at high speed is ‘Myners plus’. Considerable claims have been made along the way about its member democracy and business effectiveness, and these should now be put to the test.
Future funding cuts?
However, one potential casualty in all of this could be the funding given by the Group to the Co-operative Party, which is currently around £800,000. Up to now this decision has been in the hands of delegates to the annual meeting, most of whom could be described as traditional Labour.
While there has always been a strand of opinion in the Co-operative Movement that has been hostile to ‘politics’ and/or the Labour connection, and this has been growing in recent years, a large majority in the old system have always voted to maintain the link.
But this could of course easily change in the new structure with few, if any, supporters on the new board and with the new council an unknown quantity politically. In the current climate, it would be no surprise if, two or three years down the line, Co-operative Party funding was reduced or even ended altogether putting its very existence into doubt.
The danger is obvious, and I’m sure the Party is aware of it, but it clearly needs a strategy to make its voice heard in the new set-up by working to maximise its representation on the council, which will be a difficult challenge.
Read more about the Co-operative Group’s new governance structure here.
Read more about the Co-operative Party here.