Co-operating through Covid, the 2nd half of 2020

The second part of 2020 saw a kind of pattern develop to our meetings, as meeting online went from being something new to the new way of working. There was an element of those who were available presenting, but given the circumstances, I think full credit needs to be given to everybody who made this happen.

Subjectivity and the blog post
This feels like a good time to re-iterate 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. The answer is probably ‘a satirist’ but nobody in these meetings deserves that sought of treatment! 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.

6th August 2020, Communities session

Community plan: Co-operate 2022
Co-operate 2022 does seem to still be at least as much of a priority for our Co-op as it was before the pandemic, with the business looking to make the most use out of the assets it has in communities across the country and launch new partnerships.

Our Co-op was also moving funding pay-outs for community causes forward to help them cope with the consequences of lockdown and being more flexible about how grant funding can be spent.

Member Pioneers have also been a priority and all Member Pioneer Co-ordinators were in place at the time of this meeting, alongside 850 Member Pioneers who each had a clearly defined local area to focus on.

The Co-op Party was thanked for their support with our Co-op’s campaigning activities.

Causes working with young people have faced particular challenges during this pandemic, with expectations about how they can help increasing but money provided to them decreasing.

The Co-op’s Community Wellbeing Index has enabled our Co-op to target support provision to the most vulnerable communities.

As the pandemic’s economic effects are felt, it is understood that up to 4million people could lose their jobs, especially young people.

850 Member Pioneers are currently helping Covid-19 community groups to support their communities.

Our Co-op has supported the campaign for the extension of free school meals to cover lockdown and has funded them themselves for students at our Co-op Academies.

There will be more campaigning around the environment next year.

The co-operative movement

I got the impression from this presentation that there was a desire to review how some of the co-ops our Co-op supports are working and see whether they can work more efficiently in combination, with less overlap between roles.

Grants and the levels of them were mentioned, alongside whether our Co-op would continue to fund a print edition of the Co-op News; those who subscribe to the Co-op News may already have seen this article on the cuts to their funding.

The co-ops identified as having their grants reviewed were Co-operatives UK, Co-op News, and Co-operative College. The expressed desire was for these co-ops to find their own way of moving forward together and more efficiently.

Council was advised that our Co-op’s current subscriptions would be continued, but they were hoping that such co-ops might reduce their dependence going forward.

As I was quite taken aback by this announcement, I posted the following message into the chat channel for the meeting to emphasise what had just been said:

My understanding is that our Co-op is basically trying to encourage the orgs we fund to re-structure activities to remove overlap. Meanwhile, urging co-ops we fund through subscription to change how they work. Both of these groups being tasked to move away from financial dependency on the Co-op, so the Co-op’s work with them can be based upon their return on investment going forward. This would mean potentially looking at other ways to ensure that they can be viable for the future.

25th August 2020, Membership session

Because this was forward-looking a lot of it couldn’t be shared yet, but where these things have now been shared, I can update you on what we were told.

We currently have a 5+1 system which is weighted towards the member; but we are now looking at what follows it. So, from 30th September, members will get a reward for themselves, access to exclusive member offers and will also be able to give more back to their community.

Some functions from the Co-operate website will also be integrated into the Co-op app, making it easier for members to get involved in their communities.

23rd September 2020, Society subscriptions

The introduction
This session started with a welcome to the new co-optees on the Members’ Council.

2 years ago, the movement’s core infrastructure organisations Co-operatives UK, the Co-operative Press, the Co-operative Party, and the Co-operative Heritage Trust, supported by the Co-op Group, started ‘New Force’ to explore how best to work together to avoid duplication and ensure they provide what the UK movement needs to support it in the 21st century. New Force came to a close in March 2020.

It was reported that Co-op was committed to playing a leading role in the wider movement and had been reviewing its funding for core co-op organisations and looking at new ways for the movement to work together for a sustainable and relevant future, as set out in the motion that members approved at the 2020 AGM. It was clear from the meeting that Council remained a champion of the Co-op Group continuing to play an active, supportive role in the movement.

Council agreed to work with the Board to progress the development of a joint monitoring policy to enable Council to fulfil its role within Rule to monitor the Society’s ongoing affiliation with Co-operatives UK and the wider Co-operative Movement.

29th September 2020, Directors’ Forum

Impact of pandemic and recession
Our Co-op will need to be agile and adapt to the changing world we all find ourselves in to ensure we operate efficiently and sustainably for many years to come. The Covid-19 recession will create a more challenging environment for retail.

Colleague wellbeing
Co-op is focusing on supporting colleagues with their mental health and wellbeing through this challenging time

Equality
Our Co-op has announced commitments to racial equality and inclusion, including looking to double the number of BAME people in senior management by 2025, achieving levels of representation that exceed the national average. We already have one of the most diverse boards around and know that a better mix of ideas results in a better business.

Subscriptions to co-ops
Council questioned the Board on the support for the wider movement and was able to express its support for the Co-op Group continuing to play an active, supportive role in the movement.

Northern Ireland
Council questioned the Board on the sale of the Funeralcare business in Northern Ireland.

11th November 2020, Directors’ Forum

Food
The Members’ Council’s lobbying on the Real Living Wage has influenced the Board’s decision-making in this area. We are also very keen to expand Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities and work with other retailers etc. as long as permissible under competition law. We have also collaborated with the British Retail Consortium on this campaign. The ‘Honest Value’ brand will be a valuable addition to our Food stores in these challenging economic times.

Funeralcare
Council was able to question the Board on the recent closure of Co-op Funeralcare branches.

Auditors
A question was asked in relation to the process for appointing the external auditor.

Subscriptions
A Council session will be held on Saturday 5th December to workshop on a Board and Members’ Council monitoring policy with regard to our Co-op’s relationship with the co-operative societies that we subscribe to.

December

On Friday 4th December a personal issue arose, so I had to send my apologies to the quiz on the 4th and meeting on the 5th December. By now you probably know that I don’t tend to miss meetings, at all, but sometimes life throws you a curveball. I attended Council as normal in January (Covid-normal, not real normal) and will include updates from then onwards in my next blog post.

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