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Business Comment

Reform is needed at the Co-op, but a plc model won't work


It's chaos at the Co-op. That's one way of reading the resignation of its senior independent director Lord Myners in the midst of his governance review – one that's gone down in parts of the organisation like a cup of cold sick.

It appears to confirm the narrative of former chief executive Euan Sutherland, who walked out last month claiming the organisation had become "ungovernable".

But hold on: Lord Myners is a former minister, a City grandee and a man of strong opinions, including a high one of himself.

He thinks the Co-op should become like a plc, with a majority of independent directors who have "business experience". Separately, a rather woolly council of elected Co-op members would be charged with defending the institution's much-vaunted "values" – whatever they are these days.

The impression that's been allowed to develop while Mr Myners has stomped around is that it's his way or the highway. Trouble is, plenty of boards constituted in the manner Mr Myners recommends for the Co-op have presided over disasters that make its problems look trivial. RBS anyone?

Having a majority of independent directors plus a non-executive chairman is still the best structure for most UK plcs. But Co-op is not a plc.

No one is arguing against the need for reform. But there is surely a way to incorporate the best of what the Co-op once was with the best of modern governance in some form of hybrid.

The Co-op just needs to get on with finding that way. Otherwise Lord Myners will be proved right and there won't be a Co-op.