Area committees are expected to monitor the performance of many dozens of food, pharmacy and funeral outlets. Committee members cannot be expected to know all these stores. However they often have a very clear idea of what is happening in the stores near where they live or work.
Member Groups (in the former United Co-operatives areas) often have strong views on the local stores, what they need to do to perform better. This valuable intelligence is mostly lost at the area committee level.
People active in the local community looking to the Co-op for help or support (for example an opportunity to run an activity next to a store) find no-one who can respond meaningfully. At best they are invited to ask for money. The Co-operative misses a golden opportunity to play a visible role in the community.
We need a smaller democratic unit - perhaps covering 10 or so outlets. “Community Committees” or community delegates could develop a close working relationship with local managers, managers who themselves are empowered to respond, and could engage with local member groups. Come election time, members would have an opportunity to vote for candidates they know. Whether we replace area committees with community committees or elect community delegates to a larger body, it’s important that elected members can make a real difference to how the Co-operative works in their communities. At the moment we can’t.