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Central England Co-op Annual Members’ Meetings

Thank you to everyone who took part in our online Annual Members’ Meeting in April.

You can watch a bitesize version of the event here.

As part of the event, we asked Members to submit questions before and during the meeting. We received over 45 individual questions and comments on a wide range of topics.

We have put together an overview of the main themes on which Members asked questions, which can be viewed below.

Can you tell us more about the expanded funeral services you are now offering?

We are pleased to now be able to offer a Wills and Probate service to our customers and members. Full details can be found by visiting here:

Can you please provide details on the similarities or differences for members when they shop in other co-operatives?

You can use your membership card to earn points at a number of other co-operative societies even though they aren’t part of Central England Co-op. They are:

· The Co-operative Group Limited

· Midcounties Co-op

· Chelmsford Star Co-operative Society Limited

These societies are collectively referred to as our “Affinity Partners” in these terms and conditions.

When you earn points with an Affinity Partner, they will let us know the share of the profits you have earned with them (if any) once it is approved by their members. We will then pay that share of the profits to you at the same time as we distribute our share of profits. Where an Affinity Partner decides not to make a share of the profits payment, you will not receive a payment from us for points earned with them.

Instead of customers being able to purchase saving stamps in-store to put on a paper card can this be updated so that the customer can collect savings on a savings card electronically?

As mentioned during the meeting, we are currently investing heavily in the Society’s future in terms of new technology. Recent new innovations have included self-scan
checkouts and scan and go in some stores, with more exciting developments planned for the coming 12 months and beyond. In relation to saving stamps, we will take the idea back to our IT team for them to investigate the possibility further.

Can you please provide details on the decision behind the appointment of PwC as the Society’s Auditors?

The Society’s Auditor performs an important role on behalf of the Members in reviewing the Society’s affairs and forming an independent opinion on the financial statements of the business.

The Society is a large complex business and therefore it is important that the external auditor has suitable resources, scope, experience, and scale to successfully complete an audit on behalf of Members.

PwC was first appointed in 2017 following a detailed tender process overseen by the Board’s Audit & Risk Committee. The Audit & Risk Committee regularly reviews the performance and fees of PwC on behalf of Members.

Can you share what Central England Co-op is doing in terms of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

Recently, the Society unveiled its plan to become Carbon Neutral by 2030 and outlined a range of measures in which it will hope to achieve this. Full details can be found here:

Also, the past 12 months has seen the Society launch its new Purpose, ‘Creating a sustainable Society for all’ details of which can be found in our Annual Report here:

Can we look at better incentives to increase membership?

The importance of our Members, the benefits of Membership, and how we operate and are seen within the wider movement as a true co-operative business, is fundamental to us.

The restrictions brought about by the pandemic had a significant and understandable impact on our Membership activities and events in 2020, but it did not and has not, stopped us from finding different ways to support and engage with our Members.

Our programme had to change dramatically last year as a result of the pandemic – but we didn’t stop altogether – and we continued as best we could by supporting a range of socially distanced community events and fund-raising activities across all regions.

We have also looked to create a range of new and exciting offers for our members which they can receive when they visit our stores or one of our emails pop into their inbox.

Can NUS cardholders who get discount have a membership card?

Yes, anyone with an NUS card can also apply for and use one of our membership cards. For more information, please visit:

Would it be better to rebuild the pension shortfall for this year?

Like many organisations, the Society’s pension liability is a very significant matter and something the Board pays regular and close attention to.

The Society is fully aware of the significance and volatility of the value of the pension liability on an accounting basis as distinct from the funding position of the scheme. In this context, we remain confident in our long-term strategy to address the pension scheme deficit on an affordable, fair and carefully controlled basis.

For the financial year ended January 2021, the Society’s ‘Pension deficit funding’ was £12.9 million, an increase on the previous year (2020: £9.4 million)

How does the colleague dividend payout compare to the figure from last year?

Details on our payout last year can be found in our Annual Report:

Following the end or easing of Covid-19 restrictions, what are the future plans for Members’ Meetings?

No decision has yet been made about the future make-up of Members’ Meeting, with more details to follow as soon as further guidance on the future of Covid-19 restrictions is provided by the Government.

Do you have plans for future store improvements in the coming months?

We have tried a few new things during the year to position ourselves at the heart of the communities we serve. Being a good co-operative neighbour has improved the look and feel of our stores, using local materials, letting in more natural light to create a better environment for our colleagues, Members and customers.
We have improved the facilities with indoor and outdoor seating, toilets, baby changing and feeding areas, free water refills, cycle repair stations and improved ranges. Over the coming months we will continue to invest in new stores together with a major refurbishment programme.

Can you explain more about efforts to keep colleagues safe from abuse and violence
while working?

Be Kind is promoted within CEC retail stores and funeral homes to remind the public to treat our colleagues with respect and be kind towards them. This is collaboration with the The Association of Convenience Stores ‘shop kind’ campaign which also adopts the same approach across the retail sector, so would be offenders see the same messaging across multiple retailers. We promote a zero tolerance approach towards violence and aggression through our PR team. To date, 15 different press releases have been sent out
through our PR team targeting an audience in excess of 21 million people. This approach ensures our messaging reaches a larger audience, and then whilst in our stores, customers are reminded to Be Kind towards our colleagues. These press releases also support our ‘its not worth the risk’ campaign, highlighting the security measures in stores, with the overriding message that offences will not be tolerated and those responsible will be brought to justice. We continually review our messaging both internally and externally to ensure this has the greatest positive impact on violence towards our colleagues.’

What efforts were undertaken to keep customers and colleagues safe during the pandemic?

From the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic keeping our colleagues safe has been a main priority and we have been working tirelessly to respond quickly to the ever-changing situation, following Government guidance. Early in the pandemic we did everything possible in an extremely volatile buying market, to secure stocks of all PPE essentials vital to us. We successfully delivered thousands of temporary and now permanent checkout screens, face visors, provided substitute cleaning chemicals and hand sanitiser and delivered a steady stream of gloves and masks to stores. Due to the nature of their work, our funeral teams were given priority for PPE. Wearing visors, masks or face
coverings is now mandatory for colleagues in our food stores, following the change in Government guidance and colleagues have complied excellently with this.
We continue to monitor this guidance closely and will update our position accordingly. A detailed Social Distancing Guide for Colleagues has been created and sent to all stores.

We are also acutely aware that there was a rise in verbal abuse and threats across the periods of national lockdowns and with the introduction of social distancing measures when out shopping, including people threatening to cough and spit on colleagues. This was reported across the retail sector and has been high priority by partners such as the Co-operative Party and Association of Convenience stores. This continued as the mandatory wearing of face coverings were brought into law and the impact of the pandemic continues.

We are determined to ensure our colleagues feel as safe and protected as possible as they perform their key work keeping the nation fed and have employed hundreds of security guards to manage queues and provide reassurance, while we have also run proactive PR campaigns calling out this unacceptable behaviour and demanding our teams be treated with ‘care, compassion and respect’.

Measures have adapted over time and as we embark on the ‘new normal’ more permanent solutions have begun to be put in place.

Can you provide an update on what the Society is doing to combat the issues caused by plastics?

We are currently looking at what we sell and what we use in terms of plastics and are working closely with the Co-operative Group to ensure that where sensible changes can be made, we are making the most of those opportunities.

Carrier bags – we have now phased out single use carrier bags in favour of our more sustainable, recyclable 10p bag for life. In line with Group we also offer a 6p compostable bag in areas where the Council will accept these into their waste streams

Wrapped veg – this is on the agenda but has to be balanced with the issues of health and hygiene, quality and extended shelf life especially given current health concerns.

Plastic veg bags – we are looking at more sustainable alternatives. Compostable bags would add significant costs and can only be responsibly disposed of in the correct waste stream which not everyone has access to. Paper bags would increase the carbon impact by around 200%.

The Co-op Brand (led by Co-operative Group) have a number of ambitious plastic targets including that all own-brand packaging will be easy to recycle, and single use plastics will be eliminated from own brand products by 2023. The full list of targets can be found in Co-operative Group’s Future of Food Report.

We will be introducing plastic film recycling in our stores over the next few months.

Meeting vote results

All seven proposals voted on at the meeting were approved, with detailed breakdowns listed below:

1. RE-APPOINTMENT OF Independent Non-Executive Director

Ratify the re-appointment of Rachel Wilkinson as an Independent Non-Executive Director to the Board for a three-year term ending 31 October 2023.

The Board may co-opt up to two Independent Non-Executive Directors (‘INEDs) (as set out in Society Rule 77). The intention of this Rule is to ensure that the Board can best fulfil its duties and act to its full potential.

The power to co-opt INEDs enables the Board to appoint individuals with relevant skills, knowledge and experience in order to address specific skills gaps amongst the elected Directors.

Corporate Governance best practice states that INEDs should be appointed for specified terms and their continuing appointment should be reviewed every three years and reaffirmed by Members at the annual Members’ meeting.

The Board co-opted Rachel Wilkinson as an INED in March 2015, following an external advertising and selection process, to fill skills gaps in Legal matters, contract, commercial law and governance.

Following a formal review, the Board concluded that Rachel’s strong performance coupled with the need to secure continuity during the current trading environment caused by the Covid-19 Pandemic was a sound basis to recommend her re-appointment for a further three-year term ending 31 October 2021 – subject to an annual review of performance.

For - 95%

Against - 5%

2. Report of the Remuneration Committee

Approve the Annual Report of the Remuneration Committee.

The Remuneration Report (as contained on pages 48 to 59 in the Annual Report & Financial Statements) demonstrates the Society’s commitment to openness and transparency in setting out the pay and remuneration arrangements of the Executive Team and Society Secretary, together with the fees paid to the Directors.

The Co-operative Corporate Governance Code states that the report of the remuneration committee should be put to an advisory (non-binding) vote of members at the annual meeting. Voting on this proposal is advisory only, which means that by voting for the proposal Members indicate their approval of the report. However, should the proposal not be carried, Members cannot require the Society or the Board of Directors to change or reverse decisions the Board has already made and implemented as regards Directors’ remuneration in 2020/21.

For - 95%

Against - 5%

3. The Society’s Annual Report

Receive the Society’s Annual Report for the Year ended 23 January 2021.

For - 99%

Against - 1%

4. The Society’s Independent Auditor

Re-appoint the Society’s Independent Auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, for the financial year ending January 2022.

The Society’s auditor performs an important role on behalf of Members in reviewing the Society’s affairs and forming an independent opinion on the financial statements of the business.

In accordance with the Society’s Rules, Members have to formally approve PwC’s re-appointment.

For - 93%

Against - 7%

Distributions FROM Trading Surplus:

5. Member Dividend

Approve a Member Dividend rate of 1 penny per point for purchases made in the second half of the financial year.

Rewarding Members for their continued support remains a key priority for the Board and we are pleased to propose a Member Dividend rate of 1 penny per point for purchases
made in the second half of the year between 9 August 2020 and 23 January 2021

The proposed dividend will, if approved, be paid shortly after approval at the Annual Meeting.

For - 96%

Against - 4%

6. Colleague dividend

Approve a colleague dividend of £897,000.

Colleague Dividend continues to be calculated at a rate of 5% of trading surplus, which is in line with the Society’s Distributions Policy. The Board is therefore pleased to propose a colleague dividend distribution of £897,000.

In proposing this dividend, the Board would like to thank colleagues for their tremendous efforts in contributing to the Society’s continued success.

For - 97%

Against - 3%

7. Membership and Community Distributions

Approve Membership and Community Distributions comprising:

£179,000 for the Community Dividend Fund

£441,500 to fund Membership and Community activities and events

£97,500 to fund grants to co-operatives and other organisations, including payments to the Society’s Retired Employee Associations.

£80,000 to fund other Membership Support

Community Dividend of 1% of trading surplus supports the funding of awards to help local community groups and good causes across the Society’s trading area. Further details about the Society’s Community Dividend Fund can be found here.

The proposed distribution to fund grants to co-operatives and other organisations represents the 2021/22 budget which has been considered by the Board. This includes planned payments to the Society’s Retired Employee Associations and funding to support the development of co-operative and social enterprises and co-operative education.

The proposed distribution to fund other Membership Support represents the 2021/22 budget to fund other Member benefits, which primarily relate to the design, print, production and distribution costs of Member communications including the twice yearly dividend mail out.

For - 99%

Against - 1%