Obituary: Lord Jacques

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The Independent Online
John Henry Jacques, retailer and politician: born Ashington, Northumberland 11 January 1905; tutor, Co-operative College 1929-42; accountant, Plymouth Co-operative Society 1942-45; chief executive, Portsea Island Co-operative Society 1945-65; president, Co-operative Congress 1961; chairman, Co-operative Union 1964-70; created 1968 Baron Jacques; president, Retail Trades Education Council 1971-75; Lord-in-Waiting 1974-77, 1979; Deputy Chairman of Committees, House of Lords 1977-85; married 1929 Constance White (died 1987; two sons, one daughter), 1989 Violet Jacques (nee Davies); died Portsmouth 20 December 1995.Lord Jacques was a most distinguished product of the Co-operative Movement. As a leader he ranked with Earl Alexander of Hillsborough, though they could not have been more different in character and style.

John Jacques was born in 1905 at Ashington in Northumberland, where he started work with the local co-operative society. A scholarship took him to the Co-operative College in Manchester, then a small training establishment for prospective managers and secretaries. His success there gained him an appointment as secretary-manager to the small Moorsley Society in 1925. He returned to the college in 1929 as a tutor, having added a degree in commerce to his other qualifications.

Jacques taught accountancy to many students, including thousands who studied by post. The Co-operative Movement employed over a quarter of a million workers between the wars and they were encouraged, at all levels, to study for promotion. During these years Jacques wrote three textbooks on book-keeping which are still the standard works for co-operative practice.

His career changed decisively in 1942 when he joined the large Plymouth Society as accountant, but it was in 1945, on appointment as chief officer to the Portsea Island Society, that his legendary success began.

Portsmouth had been heavily bombed during the Second World War and much of the society's property had been destroyed or damaged. An intensive and prolonged period of rebuilding took place under Jacques's direction. He developed a direct labour force and a shopfitting service within the Portsea Island Society. Despite serious shortages of materials the society's assets were not merely restored, but added to in an imaginative way.

Jacques saw the advantages of self-service methods in food retailing, but he avoided smaller units, then prevalent in many co-operatives, in favour of medium-sized shops, where the best economies in operating costs were then to be had, as his results proved. This policy was phenomenally successful, and dividend on purchases returned to members rose to 8 per cent. Depreciation and reserve requirements were met in full and a bonus on wages introduced.

Like all born retailers Jacques had a nose for property, and he acquired development land in key areas, especially for dairy, bakery and transport operations, as well as new stores.

The success of the Portsea Island Society became the measuring rod for British and overseas co-operatives. When Jacques retired in 1965, it was to become unpaid chairman of the Co-operative Union (the movement's trade advisory body). He was a stimulating national leader until retiring in 1970. His books on management accounting and practice were published (Management Accounting and Manual on Co-operative Management) at this time.

Jacques was created a life peer in 1968. He served as a government whip from 1974 to 1977 and again in 1979. In the Lords he spoke on Treasury, trade and employment matters. He practised great economy in all things, not least the written and spoken word, but he adjusted to the style of the Lords and became an influential member, in and out of office. The Labour Party discovered him late, which was the Co-operative Movement's gain.

Jacques did not neglect public service. He was a magistrate in Portsmouth from 1951 to 1975. He presided over the Cooperative Congress in 1961, delivering, from memory, an address which inspired all who heard it. In particular he commended consumer co-operation, not merely for the return of profit to members, but because it created collectively owned capital gains. At the same time he chided the retail societies who own the Co- operative Wholesale Society for their extravagance in making the CWS incur needless cost in selling goods to its owners.

There was a friendly and impish quality to Lord Jacques. He readily assisted all who called upon him for advice and remained a teacher all his life. Much of what should have been leisure time was spent advising societies for no reward. The Co-operative Movement, which he regarded as an example of practical socialism, absorbed him throughout his long years. The Geordie burr never left him and neither did his sense of humour.