Political

Why don’t the Midcounties Co-operative candidates tell you how to ask them questions?

As you might have guessed from my experience with The Co-operative Energy, I was looking forward to the elections for directors of Midcounties Co-operative (under which Coop Energy falls) and the chance to ask the candidates about the rolling IT, customer service and management disasters at their utility offspring.

Yet none of the 11 director candidates have provided any contact details in their manifestos. If you’re used to seeing manifestos from such member organisations, you’ll also know that this is pretty unusual. It’s rare for everyone to give contact details but almost always many, even most, do.

Not only is the absence of any contact details rare, it’s also pretty odd given the (hoped for) ethos of a co-operative to say ‘vote for us but we don’t want to speak to you’.

Not to mention a little frustrating that the one who writes:

I have experience of each area of the Society with particular understanding of Co-operative Energy, our second largest trading division in terms of contribution.

also therefore appears to be immune from any unhappy Co-operative Energy customers asking questions about whether that therefore makes them particularly well or ill suited to being a director. Though at least they mention Coop Energy. The rest – despite the crisis it has plunged into and despite it being such as large part of the co-operative family – give it no mention at all save for one other bland mention as if it’s all a good thing doing fine.

Perhaps there’s a really odd rule which means it’s not the candidates themselves who are responsible for this enforced embargo. But very odd and hardly an advertisement for democracy in a co-operative.

Meanwhile, if anyone knows any of the candidates, please do point them my way as I’d still like to ask that question about The Co-operative Energy – and also now one about this absence of contact details too. Thanks.

UPDATE: Made contact successfully with two via Twitter – thank you to them both. Here’s the email I’ve sent them:

Thanks for responding to my tweet.
I’m a relatively new member of the Midcounties Co-operative, only a few years standing, and this time round am paying rather more attention to the director elections given my recent and very unhappy experience with The Co-operative Energy. So please forgive me if any of the following betrays a lack of basic knowledge.
I have three questions.
First, I was very surprised that none of the manifestos contained any contact information to allow people like myself to easily ask questions of the candidates. My experience in other member organisations is that it’s pretty common for contact details to be included, and of course the ethos of a cooperative would, if anything, lead me to expect candidates in this contest to be even more interested in hearing from members than candidates in other organisations.
So what was the reason for not including any contact information in your own manifesto?
Second, I’ll come on to my own Coop Energy experience in a moment, but I know from some of the wider reporting that my own experience isn’t that unusual. Coop Energy has seen its customer ratings slump and also seen it move up the league table of complaints (see http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/news/energy/2015/06/co-op-hit-by-customer-service-backlash-in-mse-energy-poll and http://www.which.co.uk/news/2015/06/most-complained-about-energy-companies-revealed-405451/, which note is only for the first quarter of 2015).
Moreover, if you look through the press coverage of The Co-operative Energy in the last six months, nearly every piece in the mainstream media is a negative story about unhappy customers – such as http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/energy-bills/11661878/Billing-bungles-is-Co-op-Energy-the-new-npower.html and http://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/jun/17/cooperative-energy-teething-problems-computer-system-errors-bills.
Given that The Co-operative Energy is an offshoot of Midcounties Co-operative, I’m surprised that again none of the candidates have mentioned the problems in their manifestos – no mention of concerns, no mention of regrets, no mention of desire to fix things, no mention of any lessons to learn. Given the actual problems at The Co-operative Energy this silence seems at best baffling, at worst a repeat of the dangerous complacency and failure to face up to problems which caused so much difficult at the bank.
As with my first question, of course you can’t answer for the others, but for your own manifesto – what was the reason for thinking that the troubles at The Co-operative Energy did not merit addressing?
Finally, my third question. I’ve attached the details of my own complaint to the Ombudsman for background (which the Ombudsman has now ruled on in my favour). Without expecting you to get into the particular details of it, I’m interested to know what you intend to do to improve matters at Cooperative Energy, particularly bearing in mind that the problems I encountered were not to do with the much maligned IT upgrade directly, but rather to things such as as staff repeatedly telling me they would do things which they then didn’t.
My experience looks to me like deeply rooted in management problems rather than simply being a matter of needing to fix IT issues. Hence my final question: are you happy with the way Cooperative Energy has been managed, and do you have any plans for changing it?
Thanks for taking the time to read this.
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