Outlook: Never knowingly underestimated

PAY ATTENTION all members of the John Lewis Partnership, this is your chairman speaking. We cannot float the business because it is not ours to sell. Now can everyone please get back to work and that includes you "Mr Sarcastic" who had so much fun at my expense in the letters pages of this week's Gazette.

If only it were that simple for Stuart Hampson and his fellow directors on the central board. The benefits of mutual ownership have been aired repeatedly in this column and now is not the time to rehearse them all over again save to say that were John Lewis to be sold it would be to the detriment, long-term, of the staff, the business and its customers.

But John Lewis has a problem, which is that the issue of ownership is not about to go away, now that it has spread like wildfire through the dining rooms of every branch in the country, fanned by the national press and endless correspondence in the company's own magazine.

Mr Hampson may have thought he could halt this "summer madness" by putting pen to paper and giving it to the partners straight: we are not mutually- owned; rather you are beneficiaries of a trust; there is no pounds 100,000 pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; it is all a cruel dream based on a false assumption. Lie down in a darkened store room until the urge to sell up goes away.

Unfortunately, Mr Hampson has merely added fuel to the fire, by demonstrating what a divisive issue this has become. Inadvertently perhaps, his article also highlights the fact that not all partners are equal and some could be in line for considerably more than pounds 100,000 by way of a flotation windfall.

If the correspondence columns of the Gazette are any guide, then, even after the John Lewis board has rallied its supporters, there is still a majority of the partners who would like to take the money and run.

How, then to douse the flames. If this were a building society then the answer would be simple. Allow a pro-conversion candidate to stand for election to the board and see how he, or she, fared. That is not an option which is open to John Lewis. In order to be voted onto its ruling central council, a partner first has to agree in writing to uphold the constitution of the partnership as originally laid down by Spedan Lewis when he handed over the business.

Likewise, it would be futile standing for election as one of the three trustees of the constitution, who, along with Mr Hampson and the deputy chairman, constitute the John Lewis Partnership, Trust, since only those who are on the central council have a vote.

Pro-conversion partners could press the nuclear button and persuade a sympathetic backbencher to pilot the necessary Private Bill through Parliament in order to change the terms of the trust.

What is needed is some mechanism for testing the real level of support among the 40,000 partners for ending John Lewis's partnership status. Mr Hampson may argue that a referendum would have no meaning because the partners could not vote for a sell-off even if they wanted to.

But the fact is that until this boil is lanced, the argument over the ownership of John Lewis will continue to have a corrosive and destabilising effect and a significant propostion of the staff will remain malcontent. Mr Hampson has the moral authority to keep the business a partnership. But he may also have to prove that.

u

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pillar 1, 2 & 3) Insurance

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pilla...

Manager - SAS - Data Warehouse - Banking

£350 - £365 per day: Orgtel: Manager, SAS, Data Warehouse, Banking, Bristol - ...

SQL DBA/Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL DBA/Developer
 SQL, C#, VBA, Linux, SQL Se...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment