Co-operating through Covid

When the April Co-op Members’ Council meeting was cancelled, I didn’t know what to expect, just that it certainly couldn’t go ahead just under 2 weeks after lockdown.

There’s not going to be an April meeting
Our Co-op Members’ Council meeting was scheduled for the 4th April. However, the Members’ Council needed to vote upon whether to support the motions that would go on the AGM ballot paper. This immediate problem was solved through an online ballot. A solution that put one fire out and left the rest of meetings to be resolved.

Holding the fort, and the phone, in May
The next question was how our Members’ Council would hold the Co-op Directors to account, as required by the rule book. We also wanted our normal opportunity to quiz them on our Co-op’s finances. This request meant that a way needed to be found for us to all ask questions within one meeting.

This look, in case you’re wondering, is the look of someone mid-way through a finance conference call who has just remembered that they need to find a camera for a selfie as that is the only visual available when everyone is on the phone – this was a very surreal moment. Thankfully I remembered to start taking notes 30 seconds into the call, otherwise this would be a much shorter blog post. All of the habits around meetings have been removed with the meetings, and we have needed to adapt quickly. Alas, this was my Covid haircut look.

Subjectivity and the blog post
Before we get stuck into the Q&A, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the subjectivity of this summary. Author Robert Musil once wrote that: ‘A man who wants the truth becomes a scientist; a man who wants to give free play to his subjectivity may become a writer; but what should a man do who wants something in between?’ It’s a good question that highlights the challenges faced when trying to write an objective account of a subjective experience. I can’t tell you the thoughts of others, only how I interpreted them; please bear this subjectivity of the human condition in mind when reading my summaries of what was said.

Holding the phone: the May question and answer session

Questions about IFRS 15 and 16
I got the impression that these were technical issues rather than any real-terms change.

Supporting Co-op colleagues
We are in a fast-changing situation and are doing all we can as quickly as we can.

There were concerns about the inaccuracies on the Nisa balance sheet, but they were historical ones.

Coping with Covid
This was not an area that seemed to cause any great concerns. Though of course having to make quick changes to so many systems has not been fun.

Health, Insurance, and Legal
They are all performing to plan. Obviously if it was stunning news I’m sure it would be headlines of the report rather than in the current less prominent position.

Funeralcare profits falling
Funeralcare is not the easiest market to be working in right now, but the business is addressing this.

Own-brand food sales
We are always innovating, like with the Gro product range.

How the Co-op has helped communities through Covid 19, with CEO Steve Murrells.

The Food team brought video presentations to the meetings when they presented to our Co-op Members’ Council and they certainly raised the bar in terms of informative pre-Q&A presentations; no-one has equalled them there yet.

Then we had the meeting, our first Members’ Council video call, and possibly a few Council Members’ first video call.

Colleague safety and equality of opportunity
They described new measures implemented to help colleagues stay safe in either environment. They also have active initiatives to support diverse recruitment.

Difficulty obtaining some usual brands
They’ve had to adapt to panic-buying and supply the product that is available.

Looking after more vulnerable global communities during Covid-19
A range of different changes have been introduced to actively support struggling suppliers, this is a big priority for our Co-op.

Using Co-op Membership for Co-op products from other businesses
This seemed to refer to businesses like Nisa and Deliveroo, unfortunately I got the impression that this would not be possible.

Discouraging theft
There appeared to be some concerns about the placement of high value items like spirits near the entrance to stores. I got the impression that they would consider this kind of thing as store design evolves.

A Directors’ Forum in July, looking to the future

Responsible advertising, including on platforms like Facebook
Questions around responsible advertising seemed to make reference to the responsible advertising motion, and other relevant issues like Facebook adverts. I got the impression that they would look into this.

The co-operative difference
It was good to hear that they are introducing measures to improve on shouting about how we are different; I hope that the same standards will be held by partner businesses going forward.

Markerstudy and the Insurance sale
We asked about how the sale was going and the impact on colleagues.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and Funeralcare
The CMA has been looking at the funerals’ market for a while now. The directors updated us on where we were in the investigation.

Conclusion by a director
In summary, he mentioned that there are challenges coming our way, like Brexit and a recession; but he also mentioned how the Co-op is preparing for them.

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