There is an important set of meetings of the Midlands Co-operative Society coming up on Wednesday 23rd October at 7pm that I would urge you attend if at all possible. The meetings will be held in Birmingham, Stafford and Burton upon Trent. The Birmingham meeting will be at the ICC on Broad Street and full details of the venues can be found at http://www.members.coop/membership/content/annual-member-meetings-and-society-elections
Bring your Midlands Co-op Members’ Card or Share Book to gain admittance.
(Meetings in other MCS regions will happen on 15th, 16th and 22nd October – see web site for details).
It will be considering a radical restructuring of the society’s democratic structure ahead of a proposed merger with the Anglia Co-operative Society. If the proposed rule changes are passed, and the Anglia members vote in favour of the merger at their meetings in November, the new society will begin in early December. It would have a head office in Lichfield and a trading area stretching to Lowestoft, Cromer and Halesworth in the East, Huddersfield in the North, Rugby in the South, and Dudley in the West.
There is a video making case in favour of the merger on the Midlands Co-operative Society web site at http://www.midlands.coop
Midlands members will only be able to vote on the enabling rule changes. We do not get a vote on the merger because the society rules allow the Board of Directors to accept a society that wishes to merge with us without consulting our members. However, if the rule changes fall, the merger will be delayed and may not go ahead at all.
Full details of the rule changes can be found at:
A brief summary of the changes are as follows:
To abolish the current system of 4 Regional Committees appointing representatives to a Board of Directors of 16 people, with 4 parallel Regional Member Relations Committees looking after education, culture and member engagement;
To remove the ‘age rule’ which requires elected members to retire when they reach the age of 70 and replace it with mandatory breaks in service every 9 years of at least 1 year;
To introduce a directly elected Board of 12 people, plus 2 external professional non-executive directors. This would be based on 3 geographical constituencies of roughly equal size (boundaries not yet published) each of which would elect 3 ordinary members and one employee to the main board;
To have 3 Regional Membership and Community Councils covering large geographical areas and sub divided into 3 parts with the same kind of voting structure as for the board. These 3 regions would match the electoral contituencies for the board which have not yet been determined;
To offer financial compensation to people in the existing structure who stood down or were unsuccessful in the first round of elections next April on condition they stood aside for at least 3 years. This is because the total number of elected representatives in the new structure will reduce by almost 50% from the current number.
My friend and colleague Bernard Parry has helpfully prepared the following commentary on the proposed rule changes:
The issues that members may wish to consider:
The merger is conditional on the rule changes being adopted and they are being proposed as a single block with no opportunity to pick and choose or to amend.
A directly elected board would, it is argued by some, attract people who don’t want to spend their lives sitting on committees, but those who are more sceptical ask how directors can be held to account between members’ meetings, and claim there is a risk of ‘wild card’ candidates being elected.
The introduction of IPNEDs (Independenet, Professional Non-Executive Directors) has been adopted by a few societies in recent years. Those in favour say that it strengthens the board’s governance role vis a vis professional management, especially in areas such as finance and legal matters where elected boards have tended to be weak. Opponents point out that boards can already seek external advice, and that the presence of IPNEDs did not prevent the recent problems at the Co-operative Bank.
The age rule has always been contentious. Advocates point out that before it was in place many boards comprised white men over the age of 80 and that age limits are vital to deliver renewal of the democratic structure. Opponents say that even with an age rule the same candidates can dominate committees for decades at a time, and that term limits with mandatory breaks in service are the only way to guarantee turnover and renewal. There are also questions raised about the legality of age rules.
The most contentious part of the new structure, is the proposal for 3 large geographical constituencies with a roughly equal number of trading outlets and turnover. While the boundaries have yet to be announced, opponents question how the Membership and Community Councils can really effectively engage local members across areas that may take up to 3 hours to travel across. Possible distances might include Kettering to Lowestoft, Leicester to Huddersfield, and Lutterworth to Stone. Advoctes of this new structure point to the sub-division of the regions into 3 equal sized sub-regions each electing an equal number of members to the Membership & Community Council.