The Crewe branch of the Co-operative Bank. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Co-operative needs to set a higher standard

An open letter to outgoing chief executive Euan Sutherland.

Dear Mr Sutherland,

Congratulations on your resignation! If you do the honourable thing and leave without taking a pay-off, you could save Co-operative members like myself £3.6m in your salary alone over night - an impressively efficient move. 

I know your chair said that your pay-out was what other "comparable companies" offer, but really, most people join the Co-op because it is not a comparable company. At a time when the British public have spent billions bailing out mainstream banks, we kind of wanted something... different?

I know you were also fuming with how your pay was leaked and by the public outrage that has followed - particularly from Co-op members and candidates like myself - but you of all people should know that members are supposed to participate and hold executives to higher standards. That again is kind of the point of being a Co-operative. Plus, we were victorious. It seems that, unlike other banks, members have actually succeeded in removing you when you tried to get paid millions without actually delivering any results. 

Yes, the Co-op needs reform. But our bank didn't fail because it didn't pay its top people enough - it failed because it wasn't co-operative and accountable enough. More transparency and power to members would have dislodged the appalling Mr Flowers long ago. A bigger Co-operative movement would allow a greater and more talented range of board members to choose from. Better worker representation as well as customer representation might help find alternatives to laying off 5,000 staff as in your plan. Similarly, if you'd asked us about boardroom pay in this upcoming survey of yours, and listened, we might not be in this pretty pickle. 

Right now, the Co-op bank - just like all banks and the rest of the country - has a choice. Are we going to carry on with business as usual, handing out huge cheques regardless of success until the next crash, or are we going to fundamentally reform our banking system? It's something George Osborne should think about in the Budget next week, but don't worry, he won't mention it. 

But Co-operators will. Because "The Co-op" is more than just a nice brand. Its a set of ideas and values. We believe in creating a robust and local banking system that is accountable to local people. We believe that participation and shared ownership, not big bonuses, is what leads to better banking. Co-operators work together to be radical, not make isolated decisions to preserve hierarchies between the elites and the rest. We believe it's a time for boldness, not swallowing what failed in 2008.

Of course if you don't believe any of this, then maybe the Co-op isn't for you anyway. But don't worry - sadly you'll still find plenty of banks where you'll fit right in. 

Sincerely,

Rowenna Davis 

Co-operative Labour Candidate for Southampton Itchen

Rowenna Davis is Labour PPC for Southampton Itchen and a councillor for Peckham

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.