The Co-operative’s chairman Len Wardle last night said the group should set aside 172 years of tradition and appoint an outsider to replace him when he steps down next year.
Mr Wardle said he would leave the mutual, whose interests range from supermarkets to funeral homes, next May in the wake of the troubles that have befallen the stricken banking arm. The announcement came a day after the group agreed to cede control of the bank to hedge funds and other bondholders whose capital will be used to satisfy the demands of the Bank of England, which says the bank needs to raise £1.5bn or face being wound up.
The departure of the former university lecturer follows the appointment of Euan Sutherland from Kingfisher to run the business. The Co-op will retain a stake of just 30 per cent in the bank but has pledged to enshrine its ethical stance in its constitution.
Mr Sutherland replaced Peter Marks at the head of the group. Mr Marks yesterday blamed successive chief executives of the banking business for its troubles despite his being on the lender’s board. He told MPs: “The architects of the merger with the Britannia Building Society were David Anderson and Neville Richardson. If we had had a crystal ball, we would not have done the merger. We do all have to take some responsibility but I was not approved by the Financial Services Authority to run a bank. I was a non-executive director.”
Mr Marks was appearing before the Treasury Select Committee to answer questions over the collapse of the Co-op Bank’s £750m attempt to buy 632 branches from Lloyds Banking Group, known as project Verde. He said that while he would have taken responsibility if the Co-op’s takeover of rival supermarket group Somerfield had gone wrong, he would not do the same over the bank.
“I cannot take responsibility for something I was not in direct control of namely the bank,” he said.
He also caused raised eyebrows from MPs when he said he could not recall a meeting with Lloyds chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio late last year when Lloyds said it had doubts over Co-op’s capital.