Britain's Co-op backs radical reform plans

LONDON Sat Aug 30, 2014 2:10pm BST

A pedestrian passes a Co-operative retail store in east London, April 10, 2014.  REUTERS/Toby Melville

A pedestrian passes a Co-operative retail store in east London, April 10, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Toby Melville

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LONDON (Reuters) - Members of the Co-operative Group on Saturday overwhelmingly endorsed a radical shake-up of its board structure, designed to avoid a repeat of the mistakes that brought Britain's biggest mutual to its knees.

At a special general meeting, 83 percent of votes were cast in favour of a new governance structure which will come into effect later this year after getting approval from the Financial Conduct Authority.

"I am delighted that our members have voted in favour of this much-needed radical reform to our governance structure," Co-op Group Chairwoman Ursula Lidbetter told reporters.

"These reforms represent the final crucial step in delivering the change necessary to return the group to health."

A string of poor decisions at the supermarkets-to-funerals group, such as the ill-fated 2009 takeover of Britannia building society, culminated in it losing control of its bank and a 2.5 billion pound loss last year.

Earlier this year, Paul Myners, a former government minister, set out a raft of reforms he said were necessary to ensure the group's survival. The biggest change was ditching the Co-op's large board drawn from regional co-operatives in favour of one containing professional executives.

Lidbetter said earlier this month that the pillars of Myner's proposals were retained in the changes put to the vote, but the new board would still include three directors nominated by members.

She said those members who voted against the resolution on Saturday were not opposed to reform, but had concerns at the pace it was being introduced.

The changes put to the members also included the establishment of a council of 100 members to uphold the group's co-operative principle, and introducing a "one member one vote" structure.

(Reporting by Paul Sandle and Michael Holden. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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