Len Wardle, the long-standing chairman of the Co-operative Group, has resigned with immediate effect after he admitted “serious questions” were raised by the drugs scandal over former banking chairman Paul Flowers.
Wardle, who has held the position since 2007, announced last month that he was due to leave next May but he said it was now right for him to go straight away, having led the board that appointed Flowers.
Flowers, a Methodist minister who chaired the Co-operative Bank for three years from 2010, was exposed allegedly buying and using illegal drugs in a newspaper sting at the weekend.
Wardle will be replaced by Ursula Lidbetter, currently group deputy chair and chief executive of the Lincolnshire Co-operative Society.
She will chair the group through its current governance review, which will include consideration of how the board is constituted and chaired.
Wardle said: “The recent revelations about the behaviour of Paul Flowers, the former chair of the Co-operative Bank, have raised a number of serious questions for both the bank and the group. 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 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.”
Lidbetter said: “These are very difficult times for the Co-operative Group and the wider movement, but I believe that we can and will come through this period stronger than ever by facing up to our challenges. I look forward to working with the new management team, who have already started on the important work of turning around our businesses.
“In addition, I look forward to working with my fellow board members and the wider membership as we change the way we are organised and governed in the interests of all our seven million members.”