Chaos at Co-op as chief executive offers to resign

Richard Edgar

Former Economics Editor

A general view of a Co-operative Bank branch. Credit: Rui Vieira/PA Archive

Euan Sutherland thinks the Co-operative group is "ungovernable" in its current form and I understand he offered his resignation last night at an emergency meeting of the Co-op¹s board.

Almost to prove his point, someone from the board appears to have leaked that news causing chaos this morning as the Co-op scrambled to react publicly before any discussion had taken place.

I understand that Mr Sutherland's resignation hasn't been accepted - indeed he might yet withdraw it after the board agreed dramatic changes late yesterday to the way the Co-operative is governed. They want to put to put to the membership an entirely new structure:

  • A small board similar to a normal company structure with executive and non-executive directors

  • A second "members and colleagues" board which would hold the first to account on democratic principles and the mutuality principles

  • An end to the block-vote system at the Co-op: both boards would be elected on a "one-member-one-vote" basis

One person described this to me as "a battle for the soul of the Co-operative movement."

I understand there are some people on the current board who are implacably opposed to the changes being proposed. Mr Sutherland lost support in recent days from some when details of his pay (twice that of his predecessor) were leaked.

Today's leak appears to be another attempt to destabilise him.

I think it's still very unclear how Mr Sutherland will react. He wants to make the group - which remains in severe financial trouble - more manageable after its governance was found to be sorely lacking.

His opponents want to safeguard one of the best-loved organisations in the country, a mutual with a long and proud history of working for its members. Keeping both happy will be very hard but failure could lead to the collapse of the Co-operative.