steve murrells

’There are experiences from recent weeks which we should take with us, and behaviour from before lockdown that we may want to leave behind,’ said Murrells

Co-op CEO Steve Murrells has called for co-operation to become “business as usual” to build a stronger and fairer society as the UK emerges from the coronavirus lockdown. 

He told thousands of Co-op members at the mutual’s virtual AGM over the weekend the experience of lockdown, social distancing and the virus itself had exposed “great unfairness” in the UK.

Murrells said no one was immune to the disruption and fear caused by Covid-19, but that some people were being hit harder than others.

“We know loneliness, mental illness and domestic abuse is rising and taking place in ways even more hidden than before,” he said.

“Every day we’re hearing about a challenging ‘economy’ in the news. It’s important we don’t forget that the economy is not just GDP – it’s also our schools, our hospitals, our care homes, our charities, our community volunteers. The economy is all of us. And we all need to be fighting fit in order to rebuild our lives together.”

Murrells added that alongside the hardship, the country had witnessed “an overwhelming expression” of kindness, compassion and solidarity.

“The growing neighbourliness is very welcome,” he said. “But we’ve got to turn it from a temporary reaction to a crisis into something that’s going to last. 

“There are experiences from recent weeks which we should take with us, and behaviour from before lockdown that we may want to leave behind. Co-operation now needs to be ‘business as usual’.”

Just more than 10% of members voted against the executive pay packets of Murrells and the rest of the group’s board at the meeting.

Murrells, who donated 20% of his salary over the past three months to kick-start a new members’ coronavirus fund, received almost £1.5m in pay, benefits and bonuses for 2019 – slightly down on the £1.9m earned in 2018.

Deputy CEO Pippa Wicks took home £1.2m this year and Co-op Food boss Jo Whitfield earned just more than £950,000. Whitfield received a £100,000 pay rise in her base salary to £650,000 in July 2019 for her “excellent” performance growing the food business. Richard Pennycook, Murrells’ predecessor as CEO, instigated a 60% cut to his salary in 2017 as members continued to protest excessive pay.

Chairman Allan Leighton told the AGM this weekend: “Our business is drawing deeply on our values of commercial responsibility and community concern to play our part in responding to these incredible times.

“It’s our model of ownership and the values that we stand for which have once again allowed us to do things differently to other big businesses.

“Last year we adopted a new vision statement: ‘Co-operating for a fairer world’, and I think that this year we’ve had the opportunity to demonstrate exactly what that should mean.”

Following the launch earlier this year of the Co-op’s Gro range of vegan products, a motion urging the board to consolidate the group’s positions as leaders in a new area of ethical retailing was passed overwhelmingly by members.

A motion calling on the board and the national members’ council to confirm their ongoing support for a growing and thriving co-operative economy, co-operative education and training, heritage and international development work, as well as policy, finance, legal and governance advice, was also passed.

A motion was passed calling on the board to take a series of actions on climate change, including reporting the risk exposure to Co-op businesses and their supply chain; making the necessary actions to reduce or eliminate emissions to achieve end-to-end net zero on greenhouse gas emissions; and to bring forward its 2050 target as soon as practically possible.