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Introducing the newest members of the Co-operative Governance Expert Reference Panel

News item

28th February 2023
Last updated
23rd March 2023
Co-op development
woman leading meeting

The Co-operative Governance Expert Reference Panel is one of a number of member groups facilitated by Co-operatives UK. These groups exist so that our members can influence our work, but they are also an independent and authoritative voice for the co-op sector.

The Co-operative Governance Expert Reference Panel is our member group overseeing best practice for governance across the co-operative sector. The Panel is made up of experts with proven experience in governance, leadership and/or innovation covering businesses of different sizes, complexity and risk profile.

Welcoming three new members

We wanted to welcome the Panel’s three newest members and to understand their motivation for joining.

Introducing Blase Lambert

Blase Lambert became a Board member of the Confederation of Co-operative Housing in 1997 and then CEO in 2014. He has also been a Board member of Co-operative Housing International since 2015 and its Treasurer since 2017. He was appointed to the Board of the International Co-operative Alliance in June 2022.

He has provided support and advice to over 100 housing co-operatives and social housing providers in the UK. He has developed training programmes for housing co-operative boards, resident associations and panels and community led housing advisors. Blase also co-created the Wayshaper options planning tool for community led housing organisations.

His areas of expertise are corporate governance, risk management and financial control. He has numerous publications to his name including the Code of Governance for Community Led Housing and Financing Co-operative and Mutual Housing.

Why did you want to join the Panel?

“I want to share good practice from the housing sector with the wider co-operative movement, while learning from the experience of others to benefit our members in housing.”

In your opinion, why is co-op governance so important?

“Effective governance is critical to sustaining co-operatives and to ensuring members and customers receive excellent services and products.”

What do you think is the most important issue in co-op governance today?

“Succession and ensuring that co-operative governing bodies are reflective of the communities they serve.”

What do you hope to achieve on the Panel?

“I hope that the panel plays a central role in promoting good governance and in supporting the co-operative movement in setting the highest standards in conduct and probity.”

Introducing Jonathan Carey

Jonathan Carey is a chartered secretary who lives in Copford, Essex with his wife and two daughters. He has worked within the co-operative movement for over 18 years, 17 of which have been within the Secretariat of the East of England Co-op (a retail society), where he has held the position of Society Secretary since March 2020.

Why did you want to join the Panel?

“Having worked within the governance sector throughout the last 17 years, I have seen positive developments in how good governance is applied across the movement (and how quickly it can go wrong…). I’ve seen first-hand the benefits that Co-operatives UK brings in supporting its members across the sector. I am pleased to be joining the panel and share my experience from the Retail sector in continuing to develop and support the promotion of the governance agenda.”

In your opinion, why is co-op governance so important?

“Good governance is fundamental in enabling co-operatives to not only survive but thrive during the many challenges being faced across all sectors today. It facilitates member activity, both through democratic and economic participation, and ensures that values and principles are maintained.”

What do you think is the most important issue in co-op governance today?

“The key challenge/issue in my opinion is ensuring that co-operatives are able to respond quickly and innovate their governance framework to ensure that the highest levels of governance are maintained.”

What do you hope to achieve on the Panel?

“I hope to be able to share my experience and play a part in supporting the panel in continuing to be the central point in upholding and promoting the highest levels of governance across the co-operative movement.”

Introducing Aaron Stewart

Aaron Stewart is a lawyer by training who has worked on governance and related matters for over 20 years.  Since 2019, He has worked in-house with VME Coop, working on their conversion to a worker co-op, as well as with a new venture - Coop Exchange. In 2021 he also started a Masters Degree in Cooperative Management with St. Mary’s University.  His ambition is to try and find ways in which we can help other businesses, such as VME, convert to cooperative status.

Why did you want to join the Panel?

“I love sharing and challenging new ideas and thoughts with like-minded people. But it’s mostly because I think the cooperative model is a dynamic and innovative structure which brings unique governance challenges.  As a member of a worker cooperative, I also think it is important that the distinctive voice of worker cooperatives is heard, and so I was delighted to have been selected by to represent them on the panel.”

In your opinion, why is co-op governance so important?

“Governance is important in every organisation, particularly at a time when public trust and confidence in institutions appears to have been severely challenged.  However, for cooperatives I think it is particularly important given the values and principles to which they hold themselves.  Delivering on those values and principles can bring challenges of interpretation, prioritisation and competing stakeholder interests. These culminate in the need to have a governance model which helps meet those challenges, both for the individual co-op but also more broadly in a way that recognises that we are all custodians of the cooperative brand.”

What do you think is the most important issue in co-op governance today?

“I think the most important thing today is achieving meaningful member participation. By that I mean how can we work to have members more engaged in decisions, in setting targets and in driving accountability.  One member one vote goes some way to achieving that, but the AGM is a once-a-year event. I believe that we now have the technology and the appetite to explore new ways of getting our members more involved and engaged day-to-day.  If we do that, we will go some way to tackling other challenges in terms of diversity, accountability, and sustainability.”

What do you hope to achieve on the Panel?

“Some, if not all the above!  I hope that alternative and innovative ideas on governance can be brought to the table, and to make sure that worker coop governance can, and will, make a difference to the wider debate on governance.”

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