Len Wardle has stepped down as chairman of The Co-operative Group with immediate effect.
Wardle, who has been chairman since 2007, had initially planned to step down in May 2014, but said today he was quitting following the furore surrounding former Co-op Bank chairman Paul Flowers, who was filmed allegedly buying drugs.
“The recent revelations about the behaviour of Paul Flowers, the former chair of The Co-op Bank, have raised a number of serious questions for both the Bank and the Group,” Wardle said in a statement.
“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.”
“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”
The Co-op Group also said yesterday it was launching a review of its democratic structure following media reports asking why Flowers was appointed to chair a bank when he had no previous banking experience.
When Wardle initially announced his decision to step down last month, he called for the society to appoint an independent chairman.
Repeating those calls today, he said: “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.”
Wardle has been replaced by Ursula Lidbetter, currently group deputy chair and CEO of the Lincolnshire Co-operative Society. The society said Lidbetter would chair the Group through the current governance review, “which will include consideration of how the board is constituted and chaired”.
On the review, The Co-op Group said yesterday: “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-op Group or The Co-operative Bank and to take action as necessary.
“In addition, the board of The Co-op Group has launched a root and branch review of the democratic structure of the organisation. We need to modernise to ensure that the interests of all our seven million members are properly and directly represented in the oversight of our business activities.”