The Co-operative Bank can maintain its world leading ethical policy if customers continue their business instead of switching their account, according to the organiser behind a campaign to save the ethics.
With the Bank being owned in the majority by private investors, and the parent Co-operative Group maintaining only a 30 per cent stake, it is uncertain whether the Bank will follow the same ethical principles. Though, the Bank has revealed that ethics will be enshrined in its new constitution. But it is up to the customers to exercise pressure to ensure the bank sticks to its ethical principles, says the Rob Harrison, one of the driving forces behind the Save Our Bank campaign.
Rob Harrison, also the editor of Ethical Consumer, is encouraging customers to continue to bank with the co-operative and use their collective influence to shape its the future. Switching the account somewhere else would not help ensure the Bank’s ethical policy is preserved, he argues. Instead, customers can join the campaign to set up a “union of customers” that can negotiate with a single voice.
Since starting the Save our Bank campaign in October this year, the team at Ethical Consumer has been overwhelmed by the interest shown by individual customers as well as various organisations and charities.
“It was just ourselves saying 'this is a rare thing, we need to protect it' and wondering if anyone wanted to join in and help.”
More than 20 other organisations have joined the campaign so far, which hold significant funds within the bank. “We’re not seeking to try and dominate the discourse but to contribute to it,” adds Mr Harrison.
He believes there is an inextricable link between ownership and the Bank’s ethical policy. In the future, it is doubtful the Bank's ethical policy will survive if it continued to be owned by private investors, he adds.
Referring to the Bank’s new Recapitalisation plan, Mr Harrison says he welcomes the Bank’s commitment to annual reporting, but that customers who signed up for the campaign wanted an external audit party to assess the implementation process, not one of the big four audit firms. He says the Bank’s constitution did not include any specific references to the current ethical policy, but instead mentions an ethical code.
Every year Ethical Consumer ranks banks according to their ethical policies, the Co-operative Bank being one of the highest ranted banks. Although it was premature to say whether the Bank would be downgraded, the rankings would depend on what other activities the shareholders would be involved in, said Mr Harrison.
Mr Harrison expressed concerns that hedge funds were not sustainable on long term, but said he did not exclude the possibility of the Co-op Group increasing their stake again. Customers have suggested various other options, such as re-mutualising the bank or establishing customer trusts, similar to supporters trusts.
Other concerned customers have also proposed setting up a new bank under mutual ownership. Although these options need to be taken into consideration, Mr Harrison thinks it would be premature for customers to give up the Co-operative Bank.
“All is not lost with the Co-operative Bank; it makes sense not to reinvent the wheel or create it,” he said, encouraging customers to speak with a single voice.
“Ultimately, switching your account somewhere else is the ultimate sanction that you’ve got when things go wrong – you can only use that once — if people disappear then that’s not necessarily going to have an impact,” added Mr Harrison. “From our point of view, at the moment, the co-operative, on paper, is still an ethical bank.”
• To find out more, visit: saveourbank.coop
Charles Dickens famously begins ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ with the line: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, … . Co-operatives can be forgiven for feeling drawn into the same assessment today.
If you were at the Global Conference of the International Co-operative Alliance in Cape Town, South Africa earlier this month, you will have felt the energy and promise there, as we released the key initiatives from the first year of our Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade. The new global Co-operative Marque was everywhere visible, in our venue and throughout the city, and soon we hope throughout the world. The newly-established Blue Ribbon Commission on Co-operative Capital held a ‘town hall’ forum, its first public meeting, where co-operators shared their experiences and their ideas on how best to ensure a reliable stream of co-operative financial capital. Our sustainability scan revealed the commitment co-operatives have to sustainability, providing us with the baseline we need to advance our work in this vital area. The general feedback was that this was an event with clear strategic vision, engendering confidence in the direction of the movement.
And yet, at the same time, we are confronted with media reports of problems at highly visible co-operatives. The Co-operative Bank in the UK experienced a substantial regulatory capital shortfall, accompanied by turnover in key positions and allegations of personal improprieties. Mondragon in Spain experienced the bankruptcy of a key division. These situations are serious and should not be dismissed lightly. We cannot herald large and successful co-operatives as proof of the scalability of the co-operative model and then deny knowing them when they stumble.
There will be further probes into the specific situations at hand for some time to come. My experience tells me that writers will rush to find a narrative that tells a compelling story, but that these stories will too often prove to be too simple. There will be the narrative of the organisation that grew beyond its capacity, that flew too close to the sun; the narrative of tragic personal failings of Biblical proportion. Most dangerously, and unfairly, there will be the narrative of a global economy ill-suited to ethical practice.
There is nothing, however, in particular co-operative organizational stumbles that refute the advantages of the co-operative model. We should be as insistent in refusing to induce this from such slim evidence as capitalists are to allow any criticism of their model from the long and sordid history of individual corporate failures. In fact, the systemic information tells a story of co-operative resilience and growth at a time of substantial economic failure in the broader economy.
We will need to work all the harder to spread the rest of the story. That story is an exciting one. In the past couple of decades, the co-operative sector has become especially robust and diverse. Our World Co-operative Monitor, also released this month, reports that the 300 largest co-operatives now have aggregate turnover in excess of USD 2 trillion. We have a healthy and dynamic organisational model. This should be celebrated.
Even this month, as one example, Nationwide Building Society, in the words of the Financial Times, ‘conquered one of the biggest challenges for UK mutuals by raising GBP 500 million of fresh capital through a new form of instrument that will bolster its financial strength without requiring support from outside investors.’ This is exactly the stuff of which the Blueprint is made.
Fairtrade India launched officially this week in India, adding to the more than 20 countries with Fairtrade International branches advancing marketing and labeling of Fairtrade. The organization will focus on “promoting Indian-produced Fairtrade products directly to the growing Indian market to further benefit Fairtrade farmers and workers.” Fairtrade started working with Indian producers almost 19 years ago, helping them gain access to European markets on better terms of trade. The initial basket of Fairtrade products from India included tea, spices, coffee, cotton and nuts.
There are now 121,400 workers and farmers working with Fairtrade in India, with 72 Fairtrade certified producer organizations, exporting Fairtrade certified products around the world. In 2012, an additional 2.4 million Euros (approx . Rs. 19.4 crores) was received by Indian farmers and workers as Fairtrade Premium above what they would otherwise have received in the market.
More at Fairtrade International post
This week has not just seen an attack on the Co-operative Bank, but an entire storm of political aggression that threatens to discredit the co-operative business model.
From reports in the national press to discussions during Prime Minister’s Question Time, co-operation has been brought into disrepute, largely by the actions of one man this week.
A catalogue of errors over the years have shown that Paul Flowers was not an appropriate chairman of a bank.
The Co-operative Group is moving a step in the right direction. It has this week launched an investigation into the failings of governance and management. The Group said a “fact-finding process” will see if there has been any “inappropriate behaviour” at both the Group and Bank.
But this is not the only investigation the Group faces. It has already launched its own independent review chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly to look at “strategic decision making, management structures, culture, governance and accounting practices”.
In addition, the Treasury select committee is looking at the collapse of the Bank’s deal to purchase Lloyds branches. The committee, which has interviewed five Co-operative Group executives so far, has described the bank as having a “poor governance structure” and being “badly damaged”, while it also asked whether the future of mutual model is viable.
Now, in light of the Paul Flowers revelations, David Cameron has hinted that additional inquiries may take place.
During Prime Minister’s Question Time, he said that the Labour party would be “absolutely frightened” of an inquiry, especially if it would reveal the extent of the Party’s relations with the movement.
David Cameron described Paul Flowers as the “man who has broken a bank”. The first inquiry is expected to be led by the Financial Conduct Authority into the conduct of Paul Flowers and the Bank. While the Chancellor may launch an investigation through the Prudential Regulation Authority into the wider lessons that can be learned.
The risk is, however, that these investigations, and the media furore surrounding this week's revelations, put into question not just the Co-operative Bank, but the co-operative and mutual model as a whole.
This week, the Financial Times asked if there is still a future for mutuals. Its negative response said the model is just too simple for today’s business landscape.
The mutual Nationwide, and a member of Co-operatives UK, has challenged the view from former Co-operative Group Chief Executive Peter Marks who said mutuals cannot be a “serious competitor” in banking.
On the announcement of £270 million of profits, Chief Executive Graham Beale said Nationwide is “proving this wrong day in and day out”.
Following the publication of Nationwide’s results, the Financial Times columnist Philip Augar said: “It was a timely reminder that the Co-op’s failure was not a reflection on the mutual movement as a whole but was down to the usual culprits in banking; bad management, naive governance and sloppy regulation. It was all so unfortunate, so unnecessary.”
Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Co-operatives UK, has also defended the entire co-operative sector by saying it is 6,000 strong. He recently blogged: “For all the troubles that have hit the Co-operative Bank, as earlier with other banks, there are over six thousand co-operatives across the UK, owned in turn by 15.4 million people.”
Highlighting the fact that co-operatives have a higher survival rate than conventional businesses, Mr Mayo adds that for five years the co-operative sector has consistently outgrown the UK economy. Since 2008 it has increased by 20 per cent.
In the face of the Co-operative Bank crisis, Mr Mayo said the movement is “still confident, savvy and growing”.
Ed Miliband has also defended Labour’s links with the co-operative movement. He said: “Rev Flowers has deeply let down the people who entrusted him to be the chair of the bank. Obviously he has deep questions to answer about that. As far as the Labour Party’s relationship with the Co-operative, we certainly have a long-standing and historic relationship quite apart from the role of Rev Flowers.”
The attack on Paul Flowers, and the wider co-operative community, is clearly politically motivated. Yes Paul Flowers has done wrong, but this also brings into question the much wider regulatory failings that need to be addressed in investigations.
Failings that have led to the problems in banking from shareholder-owned banks to building societies and now a co-operatively-owned bank.
The Co-operative Bank is a small player in one of the many of the banking scandals that have marred the economy since the 2008 financial crash. In the great context, history will remember this. But co-operatives have to be ready to defend a business model that has been successful for approaching 200 years.
The former Chair of the Co-operative Bank has been arrested by police over drugs allegations.
Paul Flowers, who left his position as Chair and a director of the Co-operative Group in June, was arrested in Merseyside last night and taken to a police station in West Yorkshire.
A spokesman at West Yorkshire Police said: "Officers from West Yorkshire Police have arrested a 63-year-old man in the Merseyside area in connection with an ongoing drugs supply investigation.
"He has been taken to a police station in West Yorkshire where detectives will continue their enquiries."
Last weekend, the Mail on Sunday made allegations, backed up by video footage, that Mr Flowers was purchasing illegal drugs in the days after an appearance at the Parliamentary Treasury Committee.
The committee was investigating the collapse of the deal between the Co-operative Bank and a purchase of bank branches from Lloyds.
Following these revelations, he was indefinitely suspended from the Methodist Church, where he was a minister in Bradford. The former Labour councillor was also suspended from the Labour Party.
Today, the BBC alleges that Mr Flowers was asked to resign from the Group board over concerns about expense claims and his competency for the job.
On his retirement from the Group, it was agreed the organisation would pay his fees for his three year term. The Group has confirmed that it has stopped these payments. It said in a statement: "When Paul Flowers relinquished his responsibilities in June, it was agreed, as per his contractual obligations, that his fees for the rest of his period of office would be paid.
"Following recent revelations, the board stopped all payments with immediate effect and no further payments will be made."
The Co-operative Group's executive team, led by Chief Executive Euan Sutherland, has also this week launched a probe into "inappropriate behaviour" at the society. A statement said: "Given the serious and wide-ranging nature of recent allegations, the new executive management team has started a fact-finding process to look into any inappropriate behaviour at the Co-operative Group or the Co-operative Bank and to take action as necessary."
Earlier this week, Co-operative Group Chair Len Wardle resigned from the Group for his role in appointing Mr Flowers to the Bank board.
He said: "The recent revelations about the behaviour of Paul Flowers, the former Chair of The Co-operative Bank, have raised a number of serious questions for both the Bank and the Group.
"I led the Board that appointed Paul Flowers to lead the Bank Board and under those circumstances I feel that it is right that I step down now, ahead of my planned retirement in May next year."
Mr Wardle has been replaced by Co-operative Group director Ursula Lidbetter, who is also Chief Executive of Lincolnshire Co-operative.
“The SPP is ours!” Over and over again, this emphatic sense of pride and ownership over a new Fair Trade certification system was voiced by small farmers during last week’s Fair Trade meetings in Cusco, Peru. And each day the momentum grew with an enthusiasm that was both deeply genuine and dizzyingly contagious. “Fair Trade is important to us,” was the message; and with the reins of this new initiative firmly held in the hands of the small farmer organizations, the future of Fair Trade indeed looks more promising.
High in the mountains, ten thousand feet above sea-level, two historic Fair Trade meetings took place last week in Cusco, Peru: the Second Annual Andean Fair Trade Meeting and the Third Annual International Gathering of the Small Producer Symbol (SPP). Cusco is the oldest continuously inhabited city in South America and it is said that there is a powerful energy emanating from its hills and valleys. I’m not much of a “new age” person, but after just four days at these gatherings of small farmer producers (mostly, but not exclusively representing coffee, cacao, medicinal teas, quinoa, bananas, and crafts); and accompanied by representatives of Authentic Fair Trade organizations (importers and coffee roasters); staff of non-governmental organizations; and students, academics and volunteers interested in the solidarity economy; I’m convinced that there is, indeed, an energy here. And last week that energy was pulsating with high-voltage intensity.
No one would ever claim that democratic movement building is easy stuff or that the way forward could ever, by nature, be straightforward. There are no road maps for democracy building and the bumps in the road are as evident in this new initiative, the Small Producer Symbol, as they are in any social movement. But despite some difficult moments and challenges to overcome, the SPP movement is alive and vibrant, inspiring in what it stands for and powerful in its vision of the future. The membership is passionate, committed, and determined. The staff and board are dedicated and hardworking. The way forward won’t be easy, but the creation of the SPP offers us something palpably different, refreshingly authentic, and profoundly compelling. Founded by the Latin America and Caribbean (CLAC) producers in 2006 in response to frustrations over the corporatization of Fair Trade, this fledgling new initiative deserves our full support.
Think about it; half a century ago many small farmers were working under slave-like conditions on land owned by someone else. Through much struggle and bloodshed, eventually land reform movements of one kind or another enabled farmers to acquire small parcels of land. But land is one thing and market access is altogether another. They were better off, but life was still difficult. How could any small scale farmer in the Global South find a way to export their products and earn a dignified living? Out of necessity, farmers organized again, this time into associations, and they found economies of scale and power in numbers. But even then, more hurdles: what farmer organization could compete in the marketplace with the likes of multinational corporations such as Kraft, Dole, Chiquita, Nestles and Hersheys? And so a new movement, Fair Trade, took shape, in which farmers, traders, and consumers came together in an attempt to even out the playing field and balance the scales back toward small farmers. Fair Trade has been successful and much positive change has occurred. Because of Fair Trade, the living and working conditions of small farmers in the system have clearly improved since the days when their parents and grandparents worked on plantations.
Since then, Fair Trade has grown. And grown. And grown. New products, new farmer groups, new companies, and new industries have all joined the movement. Along with them, a host of new certifying agencies has also sprung up, with new definitions, new standards, and new rules; each claiming the moral right to ensure whether everyone else is playing fair. But, as we know, growth often creates its own set of challenges and big is not necessarily better, especially when money and power are involved and those making the decisions are not the same as those whose lives are impacted by the decisions. Over time, we have increasingly had to ask: whose interests are being represented and whose are being jeopardized?
Sadly, this is the context in which the Fair Trade certification system has found itself for some time now. And throughout the past few decades, Authentic Fair Traders have complained, protested, urged, advocated, and pushed for change. Some have left the certification system. Others tried to change it from within. But like the train gathering steam as it goes along, Fair Trade certification has been moving forward on its own tracks, paying no attention to the destination toward which its passengers want to be heading.
Until now! Tired of the hand-wringing and protests and seeing very little change for all the effort, the Fair Trade small farmer organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean, and their allies in the Global North, have come together again, to reorganize, rejuvenate, and recreate. Another step forward in the long journey; this time, a Fair Trade system envisioned, created, and put into practice by the very small farmer organizations who have long criticized Fair Trade certification systems for putting corporate interests ahead of all else.
It’s been incredibly energizing to observe the SPP gathering momentum and building something new that better reflects the interests of its membership. During the gatherings, we heard about the challenges, listened to diverse opinions, participated in vigorous debates, and brainstormed solutions to a variety of issues. Whether the question was whether the definition of “small farmer” should be uniform throughout the system or vary from country to country; how to respond with integrity when large corporations seek to participate in the system; or even how to include the voice of hundreds of thousands of small farmer members not physically present, the participants debated with the responsibility that comes from knowing that they will be held accountable for decisions, not some “others” in an office in Europe. And yet, even during the difficult moments of these two meetings, there was undeniable current of optimism and excitement. Disagreement, yes; but honesty, participation, and ownership as well.
Not a small task for any group of people. Now look around the room at the diversity of participants: ethnic, cultural, linguistic, educational, professional/vocational, and in the ages of the women and men in the room. Not a small task they have in front of them. No, not a small task that WE have in front of us. Because, the future of the SPP rests not just with the small farmer organizations; this is the new wave of Fair Trade. And like the old system of Fair Trade, from whose ashes the SPP has sprung, the beauty of Fair Trade is, and has always been, that it is truly a partnership across borders. And to reach its full potential, it will require that each one of us, from where we stand, do our part.
It was not an accident that Cusco, named by the Incas to be the “navel of the Earth”, was chosen as the place to host this year’s SPP meeting. “Small Producers Showing us the Road to the Top,” was the slogan of the gathering. There’s a steadily growing power in this newly rejuvenated Authentic Fair Trade movement, and if we are very skillful and attend carefully to this new initiative, the Fair Trade small producers could just lead us to our common goal, that of achieving deep changes in our relationships to international trade and to each other.
IOWA CITY, IA (November 21, 2013) – Today, National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) is pleased to congratulate Robynn Shrader, chief executive officer of NCGA, who was elected president of Consumer Co-operatives Worldwide (CCW). CCW is a sectoral organization within the International Cooperative Alliance that provides a forum for the discussion, encourages the exchange of valuable experiences, and disseminates information among its members.
“It is an honor to have been elected president of Consumer Co-operatives Worldwide,” said Robynn Shrader, chief executive officer for NCGA. “The organization plays a vital role in connecting cooperative businesses around the world, and I’m excited to continue this important work.”
In her new role as president of the organization, Shrader will work to raise greater awareness of consumer cooperatives and to support the organization’s guiding philosophies. CCW and its members believe that consumers have a right to a reasonable standard of nutrition, clothing and housing; adequate standards of safety and a healthy environment; unadulterated merchandise at fair prices with reasonable variety and choice; access to information on goods and education on consumer topics; and an influence in economy through democratic participation.
Shrader’s 2014 strategic priorities include compilation and analysis of environmental impact data for consumer cooperatives, further investigation of co-op to co-op trade internationally, and education of consumer cooperatives about emerging technologies to enhance their service to owners.
"The International Co-operative Alliance is delighted to have someone of Robynn Shrader’s experience and expertise assuming leadership of Consumer Co-operatives Worldwide at this particularly exciting time for the global co-operative movement," said Chuck Gould, Director-General of the International Cooperative Alliance. "The achievement of the aggressive goals set forth in our Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade will require dynamic and focused leadership in all sectors. We have watched Robynn’s accomplishments at NCGA and welcome her drive and vision to our global agenda.”
In addition to her work at NCGA and her new role at CCW, Shrader works directly with a variety of industry organizations and foundations that serve the natural, organic and cooperative communities. Shrader represents food co-ops within the National Organic Coalition, a national sustainable agriculture coalition dedicated to the preservation of organics, family farms, rural development and animal welfare. She also serves on the Boards of the National Cooperative Bank, CoopMetrics and Organic Voices/Just Label It.
Shrader has more than 20 years of experience in cooperative marketing, brand management and organizational development. Prior to her role as the first employee of NCGA, she was vice president of marketing for Burgess Enterprises in Seattle, Wash. and coffee category manager for Frontier Natural Products Co-op. Her accomplishments include the development of several successful, cause-related brands in the organic and specialty coffee industry.
National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA), founded in 1999, is a business services cooperative for retail food co-ops located throughout the United States. NCGA helps unify food co-ops in order to optimize operational and marketing resources, strengthen purchasing power, and ultimately offer more value to natural food co-op owners and shoppers everywhere. Our 136 member and associate co-ops operate nearly 180 storefronts in 37 states with combined annual sales over $1.5 billion. NCGA is a winner of the dotCoop Global Awards for Cooperative Excellence in recognition of the application of cooperative values and principles to drive cooperative and business success. In 2012, NCGA became a Certified B Corporation, a rigorous certification that recognizes business standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. For a map of NCGA member and associate co-ops, visit www.ncga.coop. To learn more about co-ops, visit www.strongertogether.coop.
About Consumer Co-operatives Worldwide
Consumer Co-operatives Worldwide (CCW) is a sectoral organization of the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), which brings together consumer co-operatives within the ICA membership.
CCW has the basic philosophy that the consumer has a right to a reasonable standard of nutrition, clothing and housing; adequate standards of safety and a healthy environment; unadulterated merchandise at fair prices with reasonable variety and choice; access to information on goods and to education on consumer topics; and that s/he should have an influence in economy through democratic participation.
In accordance with its philosophy, CCW strives to disseminate information among its members and provide a forum for the discussion and exchange of valuable experiences. It also promotes business between its members. See more at: http://www.ccw.coop/en/.
Academically talented students from South Africa MAD CHARITY™, ICMIF’s official 2013 conference charity, to benefit from access to enhanced learning
NTUC Income, Singapore, has joined ICMIF and other ICMIF member organizations in making a charitable contribution to academically talented children from less fortunate homes in South Africa. The initiative coincided with the ICMIF Biennial Conference 2013 which took place in South Africa from 6 to 8 November and is driven in collaboration with local charity organization, MAD CHARITY™ (Make A Difference).
A 37-year member of ICMIF, NTUC Income is extending support to MAD CHARITY™ through OrangeAid, its main corporate social responsibility programme, and will sponsor 20 laptops for MAD learners. MAD CHARITY’s focus mirrors NTUC Income’s belief that all children and youth should be given the opportunity to maximise their potential in spite of their background.
NTUC Enterprise Group Chief Executive Officer Tan Suee Chieh said, “We live in a global and interconnected world, and as part of its affiliation with ICMIF, NTUC Income is happy to lend its support to MAD CHARITY™. Like NTUC Income, MAD CHARITY™ is helping to equalise opportunities for children and youth from disadvantaged backgrounds and make a meaningful impact at different stages of their lives.”
MAD CHARITY™ Founding Chairman Francois Pienaar, the legendary and inspirational Springboks captain who led South Africa to Rugby World Cup triumph in 1995, established MAD CHARITY™ with a group of friends with the aim of empowering youths from disadvantaged background to pursue their dreams.
Mr Pienaar, who welcomed NTUC Income’s support, said, “MAD CHARITY™ is privileged to have been selected as ICMIF’s official 2013 conference charity and to be the resulting beneficiary of NTUC Income’s laptop sponsorship. MAD CHARITY™ and NTUC Income have a common perspective that every child deserves to realise his or her full potential. By providing MAD learners with laptops, NTUC Income equips them with a very important educational tool in their academic pursuit. A laptop is quite a standard tool for most children in developed countries but for these kids who come from underprivileged homes, these 20 laptops will help them make a big leap forward in their learning journeys.”
The ICMIF Biennial Conference 2013 took place in Cape Town, South Africa, on 6-8 November 2013 with over 300 delegates.
Donations from ICMIF members are still being received and a full news update will follow on the total raised with details of more of the sponsors and those who donated to the charity. Both ICMIF and MAD CHARITY™ are hugely grateful for the incredible support received from member organizations and Conference delegates.
O I ENCONTRO DE NEGÓCIOS INTERCOOPERATIVOS DA BAHIA será realizado nos dias 29 e 30 de novembro de 2013, no Centro de Convenções do Hotel Praia do Sol em Ilhéus-BA.O evento vai proporcionar o intercâmbio de experiências em negócios entre as cooperativas participantes do Estado através de palestras e rodada de negócios.Terá como objetivo geral, reunir as cooperativas baianas para oportunizar a geração de novos negócios por meio da intercooperação. Como objetivo específico, a criação de boas práticas nos negócios entre as cooperativas e seus associados, desenvolvendo nos cooperados e em seus dirigentes, o espírito de colaboração e pertencimento, fortalecido pelas iniciativas de nosso próprio Sistema Cooperativo.O evento trará visibilidade às cooperativas por meio da divulgação na TV, rádio e jornais da Bahia, camisas, banners, site e redes sociais, estando previsto a presença de pelo menos 100 participantes e 50 cooperativas do Estado.
PACOTES DE HOSPEDAGEM COM CAFÉ DA MANHÃ - sob consulta:
firstname.lastname@example.org ou email@example.com
iNFORMAÇÕES: (73) 3084 6255 OU 8106 6068
The Co-operative Group faced an uncertain future as the Co-operative Bank was struggling to fill a £1.5 billion capital hole, according to its Chair.
At the Group’s half-yearly meeting in Manchester, Len Wardle said that while the Bank “stood on the brink of a government takeover” there was a possibility the Group could have been brought into “administration”. Said Mr Wardle: “We stood on the brink of a government takeover and the prospect of a taxpayer funded bailout for the Bank — with all of the damage to our brand that that would have brought with it. But that wasn't all that was at risk.
“If the government had decided to take over the Bank — and we were days away from that happening at one point — we could have triggered what is called a ‘cross-default’ caused by the Group’s banking syndicate calling in their loans to us and tipping the entire Group into administration.
“That would have caused a crisis on a scale far greater than the one we were already facing.”
Group Chief Executive Euan Sutherland told the meeting that the banking crisis had quickly unfolded as he started in the job on May 1st. He said: “Without changing our relationship with the PRA [Prudential Regulation Authority] and facing up to the real and immediate issues facing the bank, there was a material risk the Group could have defaulted on a key loan repayment which could have required us to repay all of our Group borrowings of £1.3 billion immediately.”
He added: “The other shocking fact is that once the bank had got into financial difficulty in the spring, the entire value of the Group’s equity stake in the bank was effectively wiped out with the bank being owned by its creditors, including bondholders.”
Mr Sutherland told the audience that these details were “important when you assess” the plan delivered to save the Co-operative Bank. He said: “We have put forward a viable plan to save the bank and in doing so we have not asked the taxpayer for a penny to help us. We focused on preserving the things that really mattered to members and customers.”
Len Wardle told the audience during his opening address: “Our priority was not only to save the Bank in a way that would secure its ethical future but to protect the interest of the Group as a whole and its more than seven million members. There is no doubt that we were facing an existential moment in our history.”
Project Orion to save £500m by 2017
By the end of 2017, the Co-operative Group will be looking to cut costs by £500 million.
Project Orion will ensure the Group as a whole is “working as effectively as possible”, according to Chair Len Wardle. Said Mr Wardle: “It has become clear to the Group Board, as well as to the Group Executive, that our Trading Group businesses and our corporate head office functions are not as efficient as they need to be and their ways of working are not delivering good practice or good performance.”
As well as internal savings, the Group will be examining all external support it provides to the co-operative movement, which includes organisations such as Co-operatives UK, the Co-operative College, Co-operative Party and Co-operative Press.
“To achieve this there can be no sacred cows,” Mr Wardle told the meeting. “Everything we do must be scrutinised and questioned. What was done in the past may no longer be appropriate for the future, and even if it is appropriate, it may no longer be affordable.
“We must look closely at the level of financial support we can offer to the wider network of co-operation that we have traditionally supported. We must ask ourselves if this is what our members really want us to focus on.”
Within this review will also be an investigation into the cost of democracy and whether the wider membership is being served adequately. Commented Mr Wardle: “We cannot expect our businesses and our employees to face the burden of efficiencies without our own democratic structures also making a contribution to the cost saving.
“This does not mean we have to weaken our co-operative democracy. But it does mean we must take a cold hard look at the way we are operating and ask ourselves if we really are serving the needs of our seven million members and giving them a true voice in our movement.”
Co-op values to be legally embedded into new Bank
Co-operative Group Chair Len Wardle told the half-yearly meeting that it would have been against co-operative principles to have walked away from the Co-operative Bank.
Mr Wardle said that as the Bank faced “many weeks of difficult negotiation” over its future there were some members who thought the government taking over the bank would have been “a better option than dealing with the hedge funds”.
He said: “I am in absolutely no doubt that this would have been the wrong thing for us to let happen. Firstly, it would have gone against our co-operative principles of self-help and self-responsibility. After all, we had made this mess and we needed to sort it out.
“But in addition, resolution would have meant we were responsible for landing the British public with a multi-billion pound tax burden. The claim that we were ‘good for everyone’ would have been destroyed for a generation.”
Prior to the half-yearly meeting, the Group released its prospectus for the Bank, which confirmed it would be holding a 30 per cent share in the new structure, with no other single shareholder holding no more than 10 per cent without regulatory approval.
The Group will put £462 million into the Bank with £125m coming from the LT2 Group, which is predominately represented by US hedge funds.
The Group’s Chair told the meeting that the hedge funds “favoured swapping the entire value of their bonds for complete ownership of the Bank with all other shareholders and our small retail bondholders wiped out”.
The Group’s 30 per cent stake gives the organisation “effective control”, according to Chief Executive Euan Sutherland. He added: “On top of this, we didn't give up on the small investors, hard working families and pensioners up and down the country who believe in the Co-op.
“We protected them. We spent weeks negotiating the small print, doing what we knew was right in a very difficult situation.”
As part of the first phase of cost cutting initiatives, the Group will close around 50 branches leading to job losses by the end of 2014. Its branch network of 342 will be reduced by 15 per cent. A new digital offering for the Bank is to be the main focus of the business, along with other self-service facilities.
In the new Bank, which is expected to be formalised with investors by the end of the year, co-operative values and ethics will also be legally embedded into the constitution. Len Wardle added that in negotiations, the Group “made the case” that the only way to save the Bank was as an “ethical going concern”.
He said: “Throughout the period of negotiations we worked hard to protect the Bank's ethical foundation and persuade the hedge funds that without locking ethics into the future of the Bank, its long-term value could not be secured or maximised.
“If you like, we were giving our negotiating partners a crash course in the virtuous circle of co-operation - good ethics leading to good business, leading to greater support for good ethics. A philosophy that has always underpinned our mutual model.”
Mr Wardle said the embedding of ethical principles into the new Bank’s constitution, alongside the establishment of an ethics committee, was a first in the financial industry. “No other Bank in the UK can make these claims,” he said. “And — somewhat ironically in retrospect — neither could the Co-operative Bank before now.
“So we have neither lost control of the Bank nor will we allow its ethics to be eroded by our hedge fund shareholders going forward. Strange as it may seem, but the situation we are in has enabled us to strengthen the Bank’s ethical position rather than weaken it.
“I am not so naïve as to imagine that somehow the spirit of the Rochdale pioneers has succeeded in turning the hedge funds into willing co-operators.
“However, they have understood that the real value of the Bank rests with the strength of its ethical brand and that causing any damage to this will only damage the Bank’s future profits.”
Mr Wardle added: “Our task now is to persuade the Bank's customers, and future customers, and our wider membership, that the Bank will be a financial institution that can be trusted and that it will act with integrity and responsibility in all of its financial dealings.”
Review to examine whether governance is ‘fit for purpose’
A governance review of the Co-operative Group was launched at the organisation’s half-yearly meeting.
Group Secretary Moira Lees started the discussion by asking whether the governance is “fit for purpose”. She said: “If we had a clean sheet of paper now, what do we want our future governance to be? How do we give over seven million members a real voice? How do we ensure we have a suitably qualified board?”
Ms Lees said the findings from the review will be presented at the Group’s AGM in May and will look to ensure that governance is “appropriate for the scale and complexity” of the organisation.
During the half-yearly meeting, the Co-operative Group Chair, Len Wardle, outlined his thoughts to appoint an independent chair to the main board. Mr Wardle, who is stepping down next May, said: “The past six months have led to a great deal of personal reflection, and indeed soul searching, as I considered the full ramifications of the crisis at the Bank and what led us to that point.
“There has been much criticism levelled at the competence of a democratically elected Board, like ours, to effectively govern a multi-billion pound business that is as complex and diverse as the Co-operative Group. We have addressed this issue in the past by co-opting experts onto the subsidiary Boards to cover skills gaps.”
Mr Wardle described the workload for a Group democrat to become chair, which includes serving on an area committee and regional board, that had both been “increasingly difficult to attend”.
He added: “So far this year, I have spent 77 nights away from home and this will approach 100 by the end of the year. I have, therefore, come to the conclusion that it is not possible for a Co-operative Group democrat to be the Chair and to have a normal life. A hundred nights away from home is not acceptable.”
Added Mr Wardle: “As part of my reflections over the last six months, I have given a lot of thought to the strengths and, yes, the weaknesses, of our current governance model and I have come to the conclusion that radical change is required.
“I believe that one part of that approach should be that in future we should appoint an independent Board Chair with the right skills to be able to scrutinise and challenge the actions and recommendations of the management team.
“Having carried out the role since 2007, I believe I have a unique perspective on the challenges the Group Chair faces. The Group needs a chair with the skills and experience not only in governance but in business to help guide the Board and also work in partnership with the management and, when needed, hold the management to account.”
With the launch of the governance review, Mr Wardle added: “These are only my opinions and it is now for you to take a view and for us to start a debate. My one request is that we carry out that debate in a proper, co-operative way and that we approach the matter with an open mind, seeking the best solution for the Group for the future. However, we cannot take too long to make up our minds.
“I do not believe we can spend years debating how to respond to what has taken place. I think we must deal with this in the next six months to get our house in order and to start, once again, moving forward.”
The Co-operative Group has an opportunity to reform out of the crisis of the Co-operative Bank, according to its Chief Executive.
In the week the Group confirmed it will be retaining a 30 per cent share in the Bank, Euan Sutherland told the Group’s half yearly meeting in Manchester that the organisation as a whole has “lost its way” and it is time to “take impetus from the crisis” to reform.
He said that when contemplating joining the Group he was “excited and cautious at the same time”. The initial instincts he had were that the Group was an iconic British institution, but it had lost its way; was in need of change; and was a potential great revival story.
“The Co-op was a Great British institution that played such an important part in everyday life, pioneering so many things along the way, changing not just the business landscape but the social landscape of Britain,” he told delegates. “How many brands can say that they pioneered loyalty cards, the first self-service store, the first bio-degradable credit cards. Or been the first to introduce internet banking or braille onto its own-brand range of medicines?”
He said the Group had quit its pioneering and innovation that made it so special; and that while world had changed but the co-operative hadn’t changed with it. “It was too internally focused, almost self obsessed and not prioritising the needs of customers and members,” he added. “If I’m honest this remains one of our biggest threats today and I for one am determined to steer us away from this.”
Focusing on the future, Mr Sutherland said: “We are at our best when we are reforming. The Co-op can reform and it can continue to pioneer the business and social landscapes of the UK.
“So while I agree that the last few weeks and months have been very difficult, I actually see them as pivotal weeks. Weeks that will go onto define us positively, not negatively. For as hard as it may have been it will take much more than the setbacks we have suffered to crush the spirit of co-operation. For that I am very sure.”
Mr Sutherland added: “Our job then, starting today, is to look forward, with energy and purpose, embracing change, modernisation and innovation in the way that our predecessors would have relished. Taking responsibility and leading from the front. So that future generations can benefit from a strong, stable, influential, purpose driven Co-operative Group. It falls upon us to break this down into the detail, and move from recovery to renewal.
“But, to do that, I want one core thought to dominate our perspective as we travel this journey together; a thought that I profoundly believe the Rochdale Pioneers would agree with me on and a thought that I don't think we can hide from. We lost our way.
“It’s not the easiest message to accept, but it’s true and to move forward together we must accept this.”
Looking at the Group’s half-year figures, Mr Sutherland said that while the £500 million decline in underlying profits was driven by £457m losses at the Bank, the wider performance “demonstrates challenges” within the organisation.
Year-on-year sales were down almost one per cent; underlying profit fell by over 25 per cent and corporate costs climbed by over 50 per cent. Mr Sutherland said: “The half year numbers show that deep down it is about us, our offer, our promise to the British public. In short, we have stopped being different.”
He challenged delegates to look at the Group’s offering: “For a Group that was born with difference in its DNA, leave this room today, walk into one of our outlets and evaluate our offer to our customers and members. Ask yourself honestly: are we really that different? The truth is we stopped being different many years ago and in the end any business, be it a bank, a retailer or a service provider, will tell you that when you stop being different it starts getting harder.”
While the Group is top of public surveys on values and ethics, said Mr Sutherland, it is in the “relegation zone” on value for money; meeting the shopping needs of customers and on in-store experience.
He added: “So this becomes a pivotal point in our history, when we choose to reform – which is an easy term to fear. But the truth is, we are in a position where we cannot fear reform. Instead we must embrace it.
“Our founding fathers from Rochdale were not scared of forming the co-operative movement, they showed incredible courage, enthusiasm, strength, determination and desire. We need to do the same now. Be brave, be courageous, be innovative and be creative. We need to make them proud. And so together we are going to turn this around.”
Turning around the Co-operative Group...
The Co-operative Group needs to “reform”, according to Chief Executive Euan Sutherland. As presented at the half-yearly meeting, here is the plan for turn-around . . .
• The Co-operative Group will restructure its finances to reduce £1.3bn of net debt. It is aiming to reduce this by £600m over the next five years by implementing a productivity and efficiency focus, going on a CAPEX diet in all businesses, apart from Food, and restructuring assets — which includes the possibility of selling some of those assets. Said Mr Sutherland: “If we don’t do this we will never return to real member ownership, we will continue to be owned by the banks — it’s as simple as that.”
• It is two weeks into the productivity and efficiency programme, which involves employees making suggestions. In two weeks they have identified £80m of savings already. Added Mr Sutherland: “This tells me two things, my intuition about the sheer historic waste and inefficiency across the group is right and the energy and enthusiasm of our people is terrific.”
• Food is the focus. Euan Sutherland said as the largest business it “represents potentially the biggest opportunity for value growth”. The Group will focus on driving innovation within the product range and delivering the best customer service. Other key areas to work in include legal services, funerals and pharmacy.
The Queen has officially opened the Co-operative Group’s new head office, which has also been named the greenest building in the world.
Accompanied by The Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen toured One Angel Square, Manchester, before unveiling a plaque to mark the formal opening of the 14-storey building. Group Chair Len Wardle (pictured) formally welcomed the Queen and Duke to the building.
Euan Sutherland, the Co-operative Group Chief Executive, said: “The visit by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh symbolised the completion of the building and one of the most significant UK construction projects in the past five years.”
An internationally acclaimed system of assessing buildings named the building the most environmentally friendly building ever. It achieved a score of 95.16 per cent from the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM).
By Hazel Corcoran, Executive director of the Canadian Worker Cooperative Federation (CWCF)
It is with profound sadness that we report the sudden death of Dr. Ian MacPherson, on November 16, 2013, at the age of 74 years. Ian was nationally and internationally renowned as a cooperator and cooperative historian, and had nearly fifty years of service to the cooperative movement including as the founding President of the Canadian Cooperative Association.
One of the UK’s most influential thinkers on food policy has issued a challenge to the Co-operative Group.
Professor Tim Lang, Head of City University London’s Centre for Food Policy, says it is time for a radical re-think on the way food is delivered and distributed to the Group’s 4,800 retail outlets.
The distinguished academic, who has led debates on national and international food policy for over 35 years, has contributed dozens of books and articles on the topic.
In a TV broadcast in the early 1990s, he was the first man to coin the term ‘food miles’ to describe the distance groceries have to travel to reach us.
At a time of growing interest in locally sourced food, he thinks there should be far more support for producers supplying direct to local stores.
He says: “I think the co-op has lost its way a bit. Back in the 19th century, the first co-operators led the movement against the adulteration of our food and sourced local food which everyone could afford.
“Unfortunately, the Co-operative Group has gone down the road of emulating the supply chain model of its major competitors with regional distribution centres and centralised supplies.”
He adds: “The major trends in the food system are very contradictory. What’s remarkable is the current interest in food, the like of which there has not been in this country since the Second World War. The general concern about health, environment and well-being is good news and people generally have become more aware of different cultures and foods.
“But our food supply is being more and more standardised by very big and powerful companies. There are more local artisan and special interest foods, so we have come a long way, but small producers are held back by lack of access to land, ownership of which is dominated by large landowners.”
Professor Lang knows more than most about the realities of food production. Back in the early 1970s, while working on his PhD in social psychology, he and some friends took over a 105-acre hill farm in Lancashire where they raised sheep and cows and grew their own produce.
A series of teaching jobs in polytechnics, running some of the first food policy courses in the country, led to an invitation to set up the London Food Commission in the 1980s with the Greater London Council, which did some of the earliest work on the effect of food poverty.
Professor Lang was also one of the first to point out the damage being done to school and hospital meal services by Tory government policy and his work made a major contribution to both the Food Safety Act of 1990 and the creation of the Food Standards Agency in 2000.
He has been a consultant to the World Health Organisation, a special advisor to four House of Commons select committee inquiries on food standards globalisation and obesity, and was on the Council of Food Policy Advisors to DEFRA.
One of his current concerns is the growing concern around food security — the availability of food and access to it.
Worldwide, the figures show around two billion people are going hungry and, for the first time in decades, the UK also has a problem with the number of food banks tripling in the last 12 months.
Professor Lang says: “For the first time since 1945 we are living at a time of rapidly rising inequality, with around five million people living in poverty according to the recent report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. That is unacceptable and the Co-operative Group needs to be at the cutting edge of changing it.
“In 1994, the Group set up the Responsible Retailing Code, building fair and sustainable relationships with suppliers across its whole supply chain across the world, also leading the way on Fairtrade.
“It was pioneering stuff, but we need to be building upon that knowledge and working for more sustainable food thinking concerned with the future of biodiversity and our eco-systems.”
Professor Lang would also like to see the Co-operative Group take the radical step of changing its policy on meat production and supply.
“Like the other major retailers, the Co-operative Group goes for cheap meat reared on cereals. Around 40 to 50 per cent of our cereals are fed to animals. We need more grass-fed meat and dairy and we all need to eat less meat and double consumption of fruit and vegetables because we are storing up huge problems for the future.”
He cites the example of London’s ancient Borough Market, which in the past few decades has earned a global reputation for its food — supplied direct from farmers and producers to consumers.
“ There is real demand for local food. Interesting things are happening and many people are starting their own horticultural businesses and co-operatives.
“The Co-operative Group ought to be leading the way in building a whole new generation of businesses, encouraging them and offering a totally different vision for the future. We don’t need supermarkets offering 35,000 lines or people working hard to earn enough money to buy a car so they can drive to the local hypermarket.
“We need to look at what things will be like in 2050; the effects of climate change and the billions more people there will be on the planet. We need to establish a good food culture which is also good for the environment.
“Stores have to have better access to local food with a shorter supply chain and we have got to re-design the whole food system because frankly it is environmentally crazy.”
A groundbreaking policy of ‘local food for local people’ is paying off for the East of England Co-operative.
The society’s Sourced Locally initiative has grown from modest beginnings a few years ago, with a small range of products to well over 2,000 different lines — from beer, bread and bacon to honey, haddock and heat logs
The pioneering project is a major success for the society, which is one of the largest businesses in the region with over 200 stores, 5,000 employees and a turnover of £350 million a year in a region covering Norfolk, Suffolk, and North East Essex
Local Sourcing Manager Kevin Warden currently
works with Sourcing Specialist Jason Whittleton travelling the region, visiting farmers’ markets and seeking out the best suppliers.
The story begins back in June 2007 when senior retail executive Roger Grosvenor was travelling to a retail outlet in Aldeburgh when he passed a field packed with fresh asparagus. When he found out the store’s variety came from Peru he decided it was time to look for produce a little closer to home.
After a trial run in several stores, the initiative began in earnest in January 2008 — when Kevin Warden was appointed to his current position.
He said: “Sourced Locally began as a three-month trial from July 2007. We contacted a wholesaler in Ipswich called Taste of Anglia and agreed a range of 40 products in nine or ten shops. Within weeks our shop managers were coming back saying can you get us any more.
“My remit was to go out and source local produce within a 30-mile radius of the society’s Ipswich HQ and from the beginning we went from strength to strength.
“In the first year our turnover on locally sourced produce was £1m and it has now expanded to £11.1m year turnover with 134 suppliers.”
Sourced Locally is also good news for the local economy which has benefitted in the past six years to the tune of £20m. A recent survey carried out by the East Of England Co-operative also shows the initiative has created over 100 jobs for suppliers and secured jobs for existing businesses which might otherwise have gone under. Its success in boosting the local economy was recognised recently when the society won a national Business In The Community award.
Networking is also key to local sourcing and there is now an annual dinner at the society’s head office, as well as the chance for suppliers to be recognised as Producer of the Year. The ever-growing list of locally sourced goods ranges from cottage industries supplying cook-in sauces to individual stores to prestige names like Adnams beer and Jarretts Tea .
Farmers from across the East of England supply meat, eggs and vegetables and every single store has a different range to offer. One of the latest innovations is premium ready meals made by Keejays, a family firm from Hadleigh in Suffolk. Dishes on the menu currently include chicken chow mein, Italian-style meatballs and chicken tikka masala. Lodge Farm in Hadleigh sells locally sourced Christmas trees along with strawberries, runner beans and pumpkins. Most foods are supplied directly from producers to stores apart from the larger product lines which are stocked in the Society’s Distribution Centre in Ipswich.
Like all Co-operative retailers, the East of England Society sources the vast majority of its food from the Co-operative Retail Trading Group, which still supplies around 97 per cent of its range.
However in the coming period, it is aiming to increase the ratio of locally-sourced goods to around five per cent of those on sale. Kevin Warden said: “Local produce like potatoes is sold alongside CRTG goods and they are aware of what we are doing and are very supportive.
“I would think if any co-operative retailers were to try and increase their local sourcing it could be done, but here we have an agricultural area so it is maybe a little easier because we have the resources on our doorstep.
“It’s great to have the support of all the board and directors and we have all put so much energy into it. We go out to talk to local schools and community groups.
“Our goal is to not only get more local producers in more stores, but try to get the right products in the right stores and give them the right kind of space. We’ve had some minor issues with suppliers over issues like distribution, bar codes and labelling but on the whole it’s been fine as we are there to advise and help local producers. If our suppliers have a problem or a great idea they talk directly to the people responsible. We are like a little family.
“I always say it’s a two-way street which means our customer is happy and suppliers reach a much bigger market than they would have had otherwise.”
Adds Kevin: “It’s about supporting local producers and offering quality produce as well as cutting food miles and meeting the demands of our customers.
“Some of the products are a little bit more expensive but we find people are prepared to pay a bit more for a quality product and you never know what you are going to find around the corner.”
Len Wardle has resigned as Chair of the Co-operative Group after his involvement in the appointment of Paul Flowers, and will be replaced by the Chief Executive of Lincolnshire Co-operative.
Over the weekend, Paul Flowers, the former Chair of the Co-operative Bank, was accused of purchasing illegal drugs, as well as a history of drug abuse.
Len Wardle, who had already announced his retirement for next May, has stepped down as Chair and Group board director with immediate effect. He said: "The recent revelations about the behaviour of Paul Flowers, the former Chair of The Co-operative Bank, have raised a number of serious questions for both the Bank and the Group.
"I led the Board that appointed Paul Flowers to lead the Bank Board and under those circumstances I feel that it is right that I step down now, ahead of my planned retirement in May next year."
Ursula Lidbetter, who is currently Group Deputy Chair, as well as Chair of the Co-operative Food Board, has also been the Chief Executive of Lincolnshire Co-operative for the past eight years.
The £264m-turnover Lincolnshire operates over 70 food stores, 18 funeral homes and 10 travel branches. At the Co-operative Group, Ms Lidbetter is also a member of the Audit and Risk Committee and the Remuneration & Appointments Committee.
Len Wardle said the new Chair will lead the society's governance review over the coming months. He added: "I have already made it clear that I believe the time is right for real change in our operations and our governance and the Board recently started a detailed review of our democracy. I hope that the Group now takes the chance to put in place a new democratic structure so we can modernise in the interests of all our members."
A probe into "inappropriate behaviour" has been launched by the Co-operative Group executive team after the former Chair of the Co-operative Bank has been accused of purchasing illegal drugs.
The Mail on Sunday published a video of Mr Flowers handing over money to buy katamine, which was recorded by a friend. The Mail also published a series of text messages, purpoted to be from the former Chair and director of the Co-operative Group, which revealed references to other drugs.
A statement from the Group, said: "Given the serious and wide-ranging nature of recent allegations, the new executive management team has started a fact-finding process to look into any inappropriate behaviour at the Co-operative Group or the Co-operative Bank and to take action as necessary."
Paul Flowers, who resigned as Chair in June to take responsibility for the £1.5 billion capital shortfall in the Bank, issued an apology: "This year has been incredibly difficult, with a death in the family and the pressures of my role with the Co-operative Bank.
"At the lowest point in this terrible period I did things that were stupid and wrong. I am sorry for this and I am seeking professional help and apologise to all I have hurt or failed by my actions."
A police investigation has been opened into the allegations, and Mr Flowers has also been suspended from his role as a methodist minister. A statement from the Methodist Church said: "We expect high standards of our ministers and we have procedures in place for when ministers fail to meet those standards.
"Paul is suspended from duties for a period of three weeks, pending investigations, and will not be available to carry out any ministerial work. We will also work with the police if they feel a crime has been committed."
The idea of starting halfway houses for social inclusion and recovering drug addiction sprang directly from the initiative taken by a group of marginalised people and from their own personal experience. Some of them, who had also been to prison, formed a self-help group called KRIS – Kriminellas Revansch i Samhället (Criminals Return into Society). In 2003 some of those people opened the two first halfway houses, Villa Vägen ut! Solberg, which caters for men, and one for women, Villa Vägen (...)