General presentation by Allan Leighton
The meeting started with a presentation by the Chair of the Co-op’s Board. His presentation covered the importance of Digital innovation and the key role it would play in the Co-op’s development of possible new business areas. He also explained how important supporting logistics, including our depots, would be going forward. He made clear his disappointment that the Co-op was being investigated by the adjudicator and described how the situation would be addressed. As the Co-op had just released its financial information for the year, he described where each business was up to and explained how they are all on track relative to plan.
Allan also discussed Co-op’s academies, describing them as a way to share the benefits of co-operation with next generation. He explained that they are currently focussed across the north of England as clusters of schools are stronger than isolated schools. He also mentioned the possibility of looking at other areas in England as the Co-op looks to increase the number of schools it supports. A Council member asked whether devolved nations would be getting any Co-op academies. Allan explained that while England was the focus at the moment, where the academisation of schools is widespread, the needs of devolved nations will be considered in time. Allan’s presentations are always a bit longer than scheduled, especially when he’s not on the Agenda, but he is very good at keeping his audience’s attention.
Finance presentation by Ian Ellis
Ian Ellis had the unenviable task of following Allan, but he still had a lot of information to take us through. He explained how well Insurance was doing and why most of the cost of the 5% for you and 1% for your communities scheme ends-up with Food. He also explained pension changes, and how reporting changes will reduce the reported profit for Funeralcare next year without actually costing us any more money. Council members asked when the dividend was coming back and were told that a dividend-type payment would be restored once profits had increased further, relative to debt.
Remuneration presentation with Stevie Spring
This presentation opened with a strong introduction by the Chair of the Members’ Council’s Remuneration Working Group, Lesley Reznicek. As a member of this Working Group, I was pleased to see Lesley give the Council background on how our Group came into being. Essentially, this Group exists because Stevie has voluntarily chosen to work with us as Council members and listen to our questions. Stevie is working with us as Chair of the Remuneration Committee and doesn’t always agree with us, but she always hears us out.
Stevie gave us some information about some of the executives, explaining that Pippa Wicks has a lot of expertise in business transformation and Ian Ellis is particularly good at communicating complicated financial information, which we benefited from at the meeting. She then explained changes to executives and bonuses. One of the biggest changes being Chief Executive, Steve Murrells, reducing the size of the senior leadership team by 25%. There are some real changes coming to bonuses this year and members will get to vote on them at Annual General Meeting next month, details will form part of your voting pack. Changes to colleague pay are determined by negotiations with trade unions and colleagues are now receiving a 6.1% pay rise this year.
Risk Management presentation with Simon Burke
I know ‘risk management’ sounds gobsmackingly dull, fortunately Simon did make it interesting. I’m going to use some real life examples to explain what risk management is. When you leave the house in the morning you are going on a journey. Different types of journey contain different levels of risk so you are likely to prepare for those risks in different ways:
Walking is generally considered to be low risk, the pavement may be a bit uneven and you may need to cross a road or two, but you are probably willing to accept the risks that come with walking. Cycling is higher risk as you could get knocked off your bike or get a puncture, so you’d protect yourself against those risks by carrying a bicycle pump and wearing a cycle helmet. You might insure your push-bike against theft, but this is enough to cover you against most situations. A car is statistically one of the most risky transport options possible so you have to pay a lot of insurance and maintenance costs to cover the risks that come with driving, many people are happy to do this. Hover boards are a means of transport that you could use, but since technical faults led to some catching fire, many people have decided that the advantages of having one are outweighed by the risk of their house burning down.
The decision about whether a risk is acceptable, can be made acceptable (as with the bicycle or car), or is too big, is Simon’s committee’s responsibility. They decide whether decisions like the purchase of Nisa are acceptable, can be made acceptable, or are too much for the Co-op to take-on. Simon’s committee also deal with risks to colleagues like accidents and crime, as well as ensuring that there is enough money in the pension fund to prevent the risk of there not being enough, and that there are plans to cope with the challenges depots may face. There are many people in the Co-op who deal with risk, so a lot of his committee’s work is checking that the right procedures are both in-place and followed.
Questions and answers with the Board
The questions from Council members covered issues with deliveries to the South East, the increase in shoplifting, staffing levels, the effectiveness of internal communications, the Deliveroo partnership, and challenges around running pop-up stores at festivals.
Preparing for the Annual General Meeting
Before the papers for the Annual General Meeting are sent out, Council members are given the opportunity to express an opinion on motions. Subjects for these motions vary from whether to support the annual report to whether we should endorse candidates for the Board elections. The results of these votes will be available in your Co-op AGM and Election pack next month. Council members made it clear that they thought it good practice for the auditors to attend the AGM and were happy to hear that they would be there. The motion on political donations was carried by a large majority. The members’ motion on advertising was also carried by a large majority.
Member engagement and Join-in presentation with Andrew North and Mark Robinson-Field
Mark started by explaining that his team work with one of the groups on Council, a joint-working group on a regular basis. He then explained how Join-in works, the principles behind it, and where they are up to in the process of developing it. One of the more surprising facts was that older people are participating in same numbers as younger people, despite a lot of it being online.
As this was the last Council meeting before the Council elections; awards were given to the three Council members who had been nominated by, and received the most votes from their Council colleagues: congratulations to Sandra Mitchell, Lesley Reznicek, and Louise Walker.