One part of the Members’ Council’s role is to hold the Board of the Co-op to account for performance against its strategic goals. To do that job, the Members’ Council needs to be clear on the difference between operational questions and strategic questions. The first training session on the Friday was about the difference between the two. The most interesting part of this class was learning how to turn operational questions into strategic ones. If we ask whether a store is going to stock a certain product then that’s not ideal as it’s an operational question. If we ask whether the Co-op is planning to increase its Fairtrade range across the country then that’s more in the realms of strategy.
Visiting the Manchester Creative Media Academy
The Manchester Creative Media Academy is one of the co-operative academies supported by the Co-op. On Friday evening the Members’ Council was taken on a visit to see how the academy is progressing. The visit started with introductions and an excellent drumming performance by some of their students. After they performed,
they gave us a chance to have a go and I went for it. Fortunately they performed some very helpful back-up drumming!
We were then taken on a tour of the school to see other areas that the students are learning about.
It was particularly encouraging to see the science class on the tour and hear about how they are working to encourage more girls to get involved in science. The soaps on the table were made by the students as it’s easier to see a use for chemistry when you can use it to make cosmetics.
We also saw some wonderful dance and drama performances by the students that would give some professionals a run for their money. The tour wasn’t all sight-seeing and tasty food cooked by students. We also had the opportunity to ask lots of questions about how the academy reflected co-operative values in the way it works day-to-day, as a co-operative academy.
Steve Murrells’ Presentation
The meeting started with a presentation by our Co-op CEO Steve Murrells. For some reason Steve shares Allan Leighton’s dislike of sitting behind desks. He started by talking to us about recent press coverage and how well colleagues had done to achieve so many wonderful celebration day events.
He then told us about other achievements including the 130 awards the Co-op’s colleagues have won this year, from the Communications team to store managers and the people behind our products. We were then advised that the Rebuild strategy will continue and the Council will be contributing input on the development of new opportunities on top.
His presentation was followed by a question and answer session. Questions covered subjects ranging from Nisa and Costcutter in relation to Food and other areas of the business like logistics and Funeralcare. A lot had happened since our last meeting and there were many questions packed into the session.
Reviewing how the Council works
There are 100 Co-op Members on the Members’ Council, if we all tried our own approaches to checking that the Co-op’s values and principles were acted-on then nothing would get done. What we have instead is a Co-op Compass, to make sure that we are all working towards the same objectives.
This Co-op Compass covers the areas that we focus on, from ethics and sustainability to finance. The present Co-op Compass reads a bit like a checklist of key points that we can focus on. The points are quite broad so we can ask about the co-op’s campaign against modern slavery when we discuss ethics. The current Co-op Compass checklist has been around for a while now, so Shelagh Everett from Co-operatives UK gave us a presentation on how the process of updating it was going.
We were given an update on the Rebuild strategy by the Director of Transformation, Rachel Woodman. Rachel assured us that explaining her job title at dinner parties was as much fun as it sounds! The strategy report was actually really detailed and informative, but I’m afraid that it’s commercially confidential. What I can say is that the report was not a back-patting exercise and did contain real detail on how to make the co-op stronger in 2018 than it is now. The rebuild update was followed by plenty of questions.
The insurance update included reports on the technical side of the business and its work
to make the world a better place. The two subjects were combined when the CEO of the Insurance business, Mark Summerfield discussed the issue of flooding.
Cleaning-up the damage from flooding is tricky because the water leaves slurry behind and it can take a long time for stone walls to dry-out. In an attempt to tackle Flooding, Insurance have sponsored Salford University’s research into how to prevent floods. The key lesson I took from this is that we need to reintroduce natural flood plains.
The core subjects covered in the presentation on Food included Nisa (pronounced ‘nicer’) and Costcutter. Other concerns included Brexit’s effect on food prices and the impact of increasing levels of personal debt across the UK.
Questions to the Board covered both similar subjects to those covered in the other question and answer sessions and new commercially confidential subjects. One subject I can mention is that there was some discussion on creating a more diverse Members’ Council. It would be great to have a more diverse Council, but we still need to work-out how to encourage people from more diverse backgrounds to apply. Please feel free to send any suggestions to email@example.com.
1st year Community Strategy Audit
The Joint Working Group on community strategy told us about the success of the strategy so far, from Member Pioneer recruitment to members’ events. They are currently considering whether the community fund might be able to help co-operatives as well as causes in the community.
Member Pioneers are not a ‘nice to have’ but an essential part of who we are. As a co-operative, we are here to meet the needs of our members; we are developing new ways to engage with our members that you haven’t seen yet, that will help us to understand those member needs as a local level!