Save Our Co-op petition was delivered to Ursula Lidbetter, Chair of theCo-operative Group, on Saturday 30 August 2014. Jo Bird, one of the petition organisers, delivered it prior to the Co-operative Group’s Special General Meeting, in Angel Square.
Signatories came from every region and nation, and across the UK co-operative movement. Including: Ken Loach, award winning film director; John McDonnell MP; Andy Love MP, Iain Macdonald, former Director General of the International Co-operative Alliance; Bob Cannell, SUMA; Jo Bird, Martin Meteyard, Co-operative Business Consultants; Jean Louis Bancel, Credit Cooperatif, France; Sean Farmelo and Mike Shaw, Students for Co-operation; David Thompson, Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation, USA; Roger Sawtell, founder of Daily Bread Co-op; Regional Board members Terrence Morton, Jean Martin, Steve Thompson, David Haigh, Linda Ward; Andy Walsh, FC United of Manchester; David Drew, Labour/Co-op candidate for Stroud; Bill Shannon, former Group Corporate Affairs; dozens more Area Committee members, people working in co-operatives and co-operative development advisers; hundreds of co-operative members and customers.
Many delegates read through the petition and names and talked cordially to Jo. Justifications cited for voting in favour of the proposed changes included survival of the business and pension fund, being pragmatic, and rebuilding confidence with the banking syndicate and other stakeholders. No one said the changes made the Group more democratic, more co-operative nor empowers members. No one said this change is wanted by Area Committees not other members.
Jo went into Angel Square to deliver the petition. A senior manager guy and a couple of senior Public Relations women prevented access to Ursula, who was nearby, talking to a couple of people. They said she was too busy. Jo requested that Ursula be given the opportunity to receive the petition. A receptionist declined to receive the petition, saying quite rightly, it would be better for someone from the governance. Ursula became available in the foyer.
Ursula and Jo posed for photos and she received the petition, with thanks. Ursula talked with Jo for a long time, including after being called away by another senior PR woman. Jo outlined the petition to reject the proposed reforms. Ursula repeated some of the justifications above. She added that the Group is in a very dangerous position. Jo asked her if the Group is in danger of breaching its covenants with the banks. She said the covenants are this thick (large gap between finger and thumb) and changed the subject.
Ursula said we should work with the reforms and good people should get involved. Jo said if members can only elect 3 out of 11 Directors, it is not democratic member control. Jo said trust in the Co-operative Group has been reduced by these proposals, and the way the Group has behaved recently, to members and employees.
Later in the day, the Special General Meeting passed the changes to its governance by 83%. North Region voted against, as urged by everyone who signed the petition. The petition flew the flag for co-operative democracy and control by members. The petition was also reported in the media including the Financial Times, The Guardian and Belfast Telegraph.
Petition organisers, Co-operative Business Consultants, are now considering what to do next, and whether to engage with the “Co-operative” Group’s new structures.