Article by Anthony Murray
Nick Crofts has been elected president of the Co-operative Group.
In the first full election of the council, following its transitional status, the Labour councillor replaced Lesley Reznicek who has held the post since December.
Mr Crofts, who also runs the constituency office for Labour MP Stephen Twigg, was elected at the members’ council meetings over the weekend.
The Liverpool councillor stood for the seat alongside three others, who included Ms Reznicek, former vice-president Jenny de Villiers and council member Margaret Silcock.
As an active Co-op member for many years, Mr Crofts was previously an elected member on the North West & North Midlands regional board and Merseyside area committee before the governance reforms. Previously he spent 15 years in sales and marketing roles.
In his pre-election address, Mr Crofts said the “radical reforms” of the Group over the past 12 months were necessary, but added that it was “painful” the “hallowed second co-operative principle, democratic member control, was diluted to democratic member influence”.
In hustings, he told council members: “Striking the right balance in building a professional, skills-based board – while ensuring that the member voice continued to be heard loudly – was the major challenge. And by the end, a judicious solution was found, balancing these competing needs.”
But he described a “bolt from the blue” when promised member nominated director elections were “abolished”. Looking at the controversial process that saw three directors standing for three seats in May, he said: “The MNDs were in effect directly appointed. In one of the most ill-judged decisions in our history, co-operators of international standing were refused even a place on the ballot paper.
“Trust and confidence could hardly be in shorter supply. All those that participated in this decision must be held to account.”
As president, Mr Crofts has pledged to look to the future, and not the past. “The council must work collaboratively to perform our stated function of holding the board and executive to account,” he said.
Mr Crofts described three immediate priorities:
- “Firstly, the council needs to develop a new, deepened and more meaningful relationship with the board and executive. A relationship founded on mutual respect. A relationship that recognises the vital importance of member voice in our society. We will be willing partners. Without this, trust and confidence won’t begin to be restored.
- “Secondly, the council needs to play a much deeper role in monitoring the performance of our family of businesses. During the crucial rebuild phase, there has never been a more critical time to observe closely the performance of our businesses. This must be urgently addressed.
- “Thirdly, the council must enliven the experience of being a member of our society. With no dividend in prospect, we risk losing our most important resource – our member-owners. Working with the board and executive, the council must develop a renewed strategy to deliver a meaningful member experience. Our members are our lifeblood.”
Following his election, Mr Crofts said: “I’m delighted to have been elected and I want to thank the council members for the faith they have placed in me. I’m excited by the scale of the opportunity the council has, and the by role I will have to work with the Group board and Group executive on behalf of our millions of members and our 70,000 colleagues.
“I’m an enthusiastic Co-op customer, as are all of the council, and together we will play a central role as the eyes and ears of our members as we rebuild the Group.”
In her election address, outgoing president Lesley Reznicek told council members: “I need your help. It is critical the council works more co-operatively in meetings so we can do more than basic business. Values and principles need to be a part of council’s DNA. We need to use our successful learning, take it forward and grow it together.
“Strategically, we need to influence the decision making process so we do not deal only in outcomes and can more effectively hold to account. At the AGM, I asked the Group chair to enable council to do this and he accepted that challenge. If the board and council are in conflict, we lose strategic direction and the board fails to run an effective business. We assert, we challenge, but we work co-operatively.”
Two new vice-presidents were also elected. Former Group board member Marc Bicknall was chosen by council members as vice-president for business strategy, performance and development, while Dan Crowe, a former regional board member, was elected to the vice-president role for co-operative performance, democratic processes and member voice.
In his pre-election address Mr Bicknall, a chartered accountant, said: “Following the £2.3bn loss of 2013, the Co-op is now out of rescue and into rebuild. With reduced debt, a lower cost base and loyal, dedicated employee colleagues who have stuck with us through difficult times, we now have an opportunity to grow our family of businesses for the benefit of our members and the communities we serve.
“In food, while sales in our core convenience estate have outperformed the IGD index, we are operating in a fiercely competitive, deflationary market. We must ensure that the board continues to address the competitiveness of our pricing and implements the demands of the membership around Fairtrade, animal welfare, ecological sustainability and local sourcing.”
He added: “Alongside the business recovery plan, we must ensure that the Co-operative remains true to its values and principles. They must become embedded in our businesses, through meaningful membership and properly resourced sub national structures.”
In his speech, Mr Crowe added: “Our new Group purpose offers a real and meaningful alternative to current ways of doing business – although unprecedented levels of market competition and the rapidly changing nature of retailing presents us with an ongoing existential challenge.
“One way of meeting this challenge is through rebooting our membership proposition alongside reframing our values and principles. This should involve the council exploring what it means to be a democratic, member-owned co-operative enterprise committed to social goals in an age of significant social, economic, environmental and technological change. In this VP position I would value the opportunity to take a lead on this activity.”
Richard Pennycook, chief executive of the Group, said: “I would like to congratulate Nick Crofts on becoming the new council president and to the two new vice presidents – Marc Bicknell and Dan Crowe. We have plenty of work ahead of us as we progress through the rebuild of our business.
“I would also like to offer my warmest thanks on behalf of the Group to Lesley Reznicek who led the council during its start-up phase, steering through its new working arrangements and establishing its constitutional role.”
Allan Leighton, chair of the Group, added: “I would like to wish Nick, Marc and Dan and all of the senate members well in their new roles. They have crucial work ahead of them as we rebuild the business and look to engage and inspire our millions of members in new and innovative ways.”
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