The July 2019 Members’ Council Meeting – could we do this better?

Induction with Steve Murrells

This Council meeting started, for new members, on the Friday. The big surprise was a chance to meet the Chief Executive, Steve Murrells and it was pretty clear that this was a rare opportunity.

He started by telling our small group about what he was working-on, including the aim to increase the percentage of women in leadership roles within the Co-op. The meeting room was a rather more relaxed environment than Council meetings, so I took a chance and asked him whether the business could give the Council more information on how to help Co-op Members?

Seeing the far more relaxed environment in that room, and hearing Steve accurately refer to the fact that Executives’ presentations to Council are met almost entirely with critical questions, I realised that putting 1 or 2 presenters in-front of a group of 100 people is not the best way to foster constructive working relationships. It’s weird how much more apparent a person’s humanity becomes when you are sitting around a small table with them and can clearly see their face.

Council elections

Pic 1 - NMC hustings 

After induction came the hustings for our President, Vice President and Senate members.

In a co-operative society where most of the legal authority rests with the Board, the candidate who wanted the Members’ Council to work with the Board would go on to win on the Saturday. However, the following underlying challenges and opportunities would also be a feature in most of the other speeches:

  • Council meetings need to be more interactive.
  • Council Members would like to work with the business more.
  • Council Members would like more support to engage with the Co-op’s members.

Presentation by CEO Steve Murrells

Pic 3 - Steve Murrells

Co-op CEO Steve Murrells told the Council how well the Nisa acquisition is going, with nearly 10% of all Co-op branded sales occurring in Nisa stores. He also mentioned the great success of the Glastonbury store, which was full to its safe capacity 3 times during the festival. Steve reminded Council that have stores at festivals was an idea from the Members’ Council.

Having seen Co-op Colleagues’ posts about safety concerns on Facebook, it was good to hear that the Co-op is trying to do something to help. Steve told Council about the Co-op’s ‘Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities’ campaign and its core role in the establishment of the government review into shop worker safety. With over 600 Co-op colleagues having submitted evidence to the review, I really hope the government listens. It was reassuring to know that all colleagues have been advised “if it’s not safe, then you can close the store”, though such advice shouldn’t be necessary.

The Co-op’s Health app. is now up and running. It is exciting to hear that it is on course for 10,000 downloads by the end of the year. While writing this blog, I have looked on the Google Play store and the feedback from new Co-op Health app. users is excellent, with many recommending it. Unfortunately the switch from Dimec to Co-op Health hasn’t gone as well for existing users. New Co-op Health users having such a great experience does bode well for the app.’s future.

After Steve’s presentation, we had the opportunity to ask him questions. The questions from Council Members covered a variety of areas and some of the answers we received included:

  • The 25% of time saved for stores through new ways of working can only be put back into stores if new procedures are followed.
  • Our success this year does not depend on there being a good summer.
  • The renewal of the larger part of the £450m Eurobond debt bond was achieved through a £300m sustainability bond that rewards the Co-op for its sustainability initiatives. The remainder is to be renewed after Brexit, though its value is covered by a liquidity (lending) facility until then. Renewing bonds will be easier once the uncertainty around Brexit has passed.

Presentation on Franchising by Martin Rogers

Pic 4 - Martin Rogers

The Co-op’s franchising business is run as a separate food-related business owned by the Co-op. I was one of many Members of Council who had already met Martin during his time on the Council. Seeing him now, in his new role, was seriously impressive. He was knowledgeable on the detail and passionate about the big picture, while undertaking a seriously challenging role.

Martin shared details about how he’d developed the franchising business by learning from experience as the Co-op’s knowledge about how to run a franchising business grew. It was also a relief to hear that self-service check-outs at the Leeds University Union store had in-fact led to more colleagues being hired, as sales grew significantly and more colleagues were required to manage the stock.

The Future of Food – sustainability

Pic 5 - Responsible Sourcing

Much of the information in the Future of Food presentation was in-line with what is expected of retailers these days; though this certainly won’t make it any easier to achieve:

  • More vegan options being made available.
  • Less sugar in food.
  • Less salt in food.
  • Reducing our carbon footprint.

Though there were some really interesting developments in the presentation too, which set us apart and make us different from other grocery retailers:

  • The Co-op is trying to make all own-brand packaging easy to recycle by 2023, with 80% easy to recycle by 2020.
  • The milk supply actually has double the carbon footprint it takes to run all of the stores and other buildings the Co-op runs.
  • Far more soy is consumed than palm oil, with 99% of it being used for animal feed. It is good that the Co-op are working on getting more sustainable soy into suppliers’ animal feed.
  • As global climate change and drought threaten water supplies in the global south, the Co-op is working with the Rivers Trust and World Wildlife Fund to protect the water supply.

The Directors Forum, parts 1 and 2

Pic 6 - Director break-out

The Directors Forum is probably, on paper, the most important part of the meeting. The Members’ Council Member’s job role requires us to hold the Board to account, but this is the only opportunity most of us get to actually do this. For part 1, the Chair of each committee on the Members’ Council asks the panel of directors a question on behalf of their committee. While for part 2, Council Members are split into groups to have less formal chats with individual directors.

Part 1 – the panel Q&A featured some good questions from the committees, but those not on committees were a passive audience; the questions included:

  • Should the issuing of postal votes be restored? – Answer, only for those who request them.
  • Would members be more motivated to vote if the motions were more controversial? – Answer, probably.
  • How is the wholesale business progressing? – Answer, we’re working on it.

Part 2 – Breakout session with Victor Adebowale

This started for me, with being sorted into a group with Co-op Director Victor Adebowale. The group then moved into a room with natural light and a clear view of everyone in the room. Sitting around the table with us, a different Victor emerged. To be honest, Council Members probably came across rather differently too. The result was that we had far more of a conversation with Victor than had previously been possible.

Questions about how to turn the Co-op into more of a movement were addressed by Council Members as well as our Director. When questions were asked about how the Co-op could make use of its unused spaces for the community; a discussion broke-out about how we could ensure their use was in-line with our values. Both questions and answers were coming from our Director, as well as Council members, as we explored how to strengthen communication between colleagues in stores and Angel Square.

It is unlikely that Council Members will get everything they seek for the Co-op, but if I can see evidence of our ideas in some of the approaches the Board of Directors adopt then I’ll know we’ve actually made a difference.

Of course the Council and the Board don’t have a monopoly on ideas. If, while reading this, you come-up with any ideas on how the Co-op can make the world a better place, given its resources, please complete my 3 question survey.

If you would like to see the official summary of this meeting then please see the official report.

Best wishes,


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