The Co-op faces a critical poll on its future today when key principles on radical reform of the troubled mutual go to the vote at a special meeting.
Former City minister Lord Myners has proposed a major shake-up of the food-to-funerals business after a disastrous period saw it slump to a £2.5bn annual loss – its worst ever – in 2013.
But he fears that traditionalists within the 150-year-old organisation are “still stuck in denial” about its problems and will not support the plans.
These include sweeping away the existing 20-strong board of representatives from the co-operative movement, who currently include an engineer, a plasterer and a retired deputy headteacher.
He wants to replace this with a slimmed-down “plc and beyond” structure staffed by professionally-trained directors.
The former Marks & Spencer chairman was appointed a director of the Co-operative Group in December but has announced he is to leave following this weekend’s vote.
He has said it was apparent to him from the first time he attended a board meeting that not one of its members had the ability to address the complex issues faced by a group burdened with £1.4bn of debt.
Lord Myners believes that the Co-op will survive but faces the prospect of having to sell assets such as its £1bn funeral business, in order to meet the demands of its lending banks, if it does not adopt reform.
Bitter resistance to the changes saw chief executive Euan Sutherland leave the group earlier this year saying it was ungovernable.
Today’s ballot will be decided by representatives of its independent societies and affiliated organisations – which hold 22 per cent of the vote – and others voting on behalf of its regional membership boards making up the remaining 78 per cent.
Massive losses must be wake-up call for Co-op: Page 15.