We screwed up, confesses the Co-op

Charles 3 Comments

Screenshot 2014-02-20 at 16


To Nick Goodway in the London Evening Standard it looks more like a ‘massive public relations exercise than a genuine “want to know what you think”.’  He’s talking about the Co-op’s Have Your Say survey, now under way, which gives you the chance to tell ‘the Group’ what you think of it. Yes, the top chaps at the Co-op acknowledge that

… it’s time to change. But not until we’ve heard what you have to say. That’s because making decisions with you, not for you, remains at the very heart of everything we do. It’s the co-operative way. We want your views on a range of topics, from how we source our products to our work in the community. 

Group chief executive Euan Sutherand, confesses that the Co-op has “lost touch with its customers and members and the communities in which it operates . . . We haven’t been listening.” It’s the sort of statement of total failure you might expect to hear from a business going into liquidation. 

But Sutherland denies that asking the public for guidance is an indicator of cluelessness. In the FT he is quote as saying: “It doesn’t mean we are not leading. I came in and fired the entire executive team across the group and the bank in three weeks, recapitalised the bank and identified that we needed to bring the cost base down by £500m … We need to stop copying the purely commercial model – the plc model – and start to do things that are right for us as a co-op. We’ve been through huge trauma . . . but have an opportunity to be different.”

Absent from the discussion, so far as we can see, is any mention of member control.

Here at the GFG we’re not going to fill in the survey, even though that means passing up a chance of winning a Panasonic HD LED TV. Mr Tinning and his people know exactly what we think of them and this has earned us their detestation. Ach, you can only do your best.

We have only one piece of further advice to offer  The Co-op. Intervene in the market in the best interests of your members. Simples. Get the prices and service right, cut out the upselling, excise all incompetence and only then agonise over what you’re going to do with your profits.

Hat-tip to SL


  1. Charles

    Interesting read. Thanks!

    While I wouldn’t buy a pint of milk from an organisation that gives £1m a year to the Labour Party, I admire the Co-op’s attempts to promote voluntary work in the community.

    It’s a shame the jaded public dismiss such initiatives as cynical marketing ploys, and care only about lowering the cost of their shopping trolley or funeral package. But who can blame them?

    The Co-op seems to have fallen into the same trap as the ‘whiter than white’ Blair government—until his cabinet showed its corrupt side. There was also a backlash against the holier-than-thou Pharisees when they were revealed to be charlatans.

    I work for a global corporation, not a co-operative. We’re paid a salary for the skills we provide, and our performance is judged by monetary results. If we surpass targets, we’re rewarded with bonuses.

    This doesn’t mean we cut costs and risk quality to maximise profit. That would be shooting oneself in the foot in a competitive, capitalist market economy.

    Our code of ethics is also straight up: zero tolerance for prejudices in the workplace or corruption when dealing with outsourcers.

    It’s a caring and thriving professional family, on the whole, for which I’m grateful. We’re allowed to be boring, respectable and conservative, no pressure to be greedy, exploitative risk-takers.

    Some said the recession would lead to nothing less than a new era in the economy and culture, a time of vigorous prudence and self-regulation.

    The cooperatively owned business model embodies just the kind of corporate social responsibility we espouse, in times of both crisis and prosperity.

    Such democratically run businesses, whose members are also its owners, exist to serve people’s needs rather than to maximise profit. Cheers to that.

    But not all investor-owned firms operate with built-in conflicts of interest with investors sacrificing quality or ethics to guarantee higher returns, as happened in banking. Nor does it never happen with cooperatives, as we’ve seen…

    There’s human error in both business models. Capitalism can be, and often is, bridled by the regular, self-regulating Steady Eddies and Edwinas of this world.

  2. Charles

    I saw this survey earlier on Facebook. Unfortunately for them, most of the several hundred comments are critical, both from customers and (notably) employees.

    Whoever runs the co-op Facebook page is now desperately trying to close down these infernal critics by urging them to write in or, in the case of employees, use internal communication systems.

    Either way it’s entertaining reading. They do say if you don’t ask..

    Most employees I know, in both retail and funeral divisions do not like the organisation that pays them. The new boss has a very big job on his hands.

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