“Disastrous” £2.5bn loss for Co-op

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​The Co-operative Group has announced annual losses of £2.5​bn after suffering the worst crisis in its history following the near-collapse of its banking arm.

Interim chief executive Richard Pennycook said: “2013 was a disastrous year for the Co-operative Group, the worst in our 150-year history.

“Today’s results demonstrate that but they also highlight fundamental failings in management and governance at the group over many years.

“These results should serve as a wake-up call to anyone who doubts just how serious the challenges we face are.”

The Co-op’s eye-watering losses come as the group is tearing itself apart over controversial reforms to its democratic membership structure.

A sprawling mutual, encompassing businesses from financial services to supermarkets and funerals, it came to be regarded as “ungovernable” by former chief executive Euan Sutherland, who walked out in March after less than a year.

Mr Sutherland, who only took over last May, encountered stiff resistance to plans to shake up the group’s corporate structure, with regional membership boards and independent societies who currently hold sway thought to be opposed.

His departure, precipitated by the leak of his £3.66​m pay deal to a Sunday newspaper, lifted the lid on the bitter infighting at the top of the group and sparked a period of bloodletting over its future.

In an extraordinary Facebook rant, Mr Sutherland shed light on the poisonous atmosphere among the company’s directors, claiming the disclosure about his pay appeared to have come from the boardroom.

He claimed there were “disaffected people who are determined to make life difficult and embarrassing for the Co-operative at a time when what we need most are professionalism and loyalty to the business”.

Former City minister Lord Myners, brought in to draw up reforms after the Co-op was brought to its knees by the near-collapse of its banking arm, was the next to announce his departure - ​al​though he will stay on to publish his final report and put it to the vote.