This meeting had a promising start, located in Federation rather than Angel Square, we were in a venue designed for meaningful group work.
Strategy and planning
Our first presentation featured Senior Non-Executive Director, Chris Kelly; Deputy CEO, Pippa Wicks; and Chief Finance Officer, Shirine Khoury-Haq. At our last Council meeting, Council Members took part in a strategy session, where we were given a list of potential business projects and initiatives and asked to share what we thought should be priorities for us as a co-op. At our February meeting, we then heard how the Board had taken this feedback into consideration when shaping plans for Co-op’s new vision.
The second part of this presentation started with a montage of the ways in which our Co-op has been using the power of co-operation to make a difference. From Funeralcare helping a veteran to attend a Remembrance Day service, to our Co-op’s support for the Damilola Taylor Trust, and how Whaley Bridge Co-op supported the emergency services as they worked to prevent the nearby dam from bursting.
After the video showing how the Co-op was making things better, the presenter made a transition from the moving stories to the hard details of the Co-op’s strategic plan. The subject switch from homes being saved and communities supported, to our promising position in the shifting convenience market, was akin to a favourite TV programme being immediately followed by the news ‘in a change to our scheduled programming’.
The second part of this presentation was interesting, but some of us sensed a slight change in tone compared to presentations we’d heard before. The reason for this change would soon become clear though, as Chief Finance Officer, Shirine Khoury-Haq, took to the stage.
Shirine’s clear, no-nonsense, yet open presentation style was very engaging. She shared that her focus has been on making sure our financial plans help us to become a more sustainable Co-op now, so we can meaningfully bring our vision to life in the future.
We were then given an update on the Co-op’s Community Plan by Rebecca Birkbeck (Director of Community and Shared Value) and Russell Gill (Head of Co-op and Local Engagement). Rebecca and Russell reported on the progress made on the community plan, including the Co-op’s work on Endangered Spaces, Join In Live, and the current progress of the Member Pioneer Programme.
The Directors’ Forum
The first part of the Directors’ Forum saw us discuss more effective communication about Co-op’s work, improving the experience of colleagues, store stock selection and KPIs for new business areas.
The second part of the Directors’ Forum gave those not on committees a chance to ask our questions. When I asked about the possibility of increasing the Co-op’s revenue streams, we heard that it would be good for us to better connect the dots of what it means to be a co-op with our products and services. By doing this, we could open the door to lots of potential new revenue streams that showcase our difference without massively impacting our spending.
Other questions included the impact of self-service check-outs, and related to the practices of a home delivery business the Co-op has been working with.
Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities
The Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities presentation was led by Paul Gerrard (Campaigns and Public Affairs Director). He informed the meeting that 2 Co-op Colleagues are attacked with weapons every day! More are threatened or assaulted.
Then he made it clear that while there are some things the Co-op can do, and on average we are spending 4 times more than our competitors to do these things, it is hard to solve the problem on our own when only 1 in 500 phone calls to police receives a response. As we near the age of colleagues needing to wear body cameras, change has to extend to the causes of crime and lenient sentences for offenders.
Co-op Colleagues submitted 700 responses to the government’s review on violence against shop-workers. The Co-op has also used its own research on violence against shop-workers to lobby both of the largest political parties in the UK at their party conferences.
We were then introduced to PC Toogood, who informed us that most crimes in Birmingham North were committed by around 77 people, and the main thing influencing those people was drug addiction. In cases of addiction, prison is only a temporary fix, and going to rehab is too expensive for most as it costs thousands of pounds a week. One of the Independent Co-operative Societies, Central England, helped to tackle this issue by sponsoring two local drug addicts through rehab.
The meeting was then introduced to a former drug addict who has been through the programme. After becoming addicted to crack cocaine and heroin at age 13, she had spent 22 years serving her addiction. Because of the rehabilitation programme, she was able to get clean and is no longer committing retail crime. Her volunteer work with a local women’s charity has given her life new purpose.
Council were then given an opportunity to lobby our MPs on the need to protect shop workers. This opportunity was taken-up en-mass as soon as offered, as Council Members wanted to do what we could.
Member engagement opportunities
The session on Join In Live, and which formats would work best, involved some lengthy discussion. The Members’ Council Motions proposed were also discussed and will be voted on by the Council over the next month or so. Details should be in the April blog post.
In my last blog post, I asked members to submit their motion ideas. Thank you to everyone who did, I will get back to you all.
If any readers are finding isolation difficult or want to help those who are, advice can be found on the Co-op’s Co-operate website. We can’t control the blows that life throws at us, but getting through them is a lot easier together.