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How is the Co-op similar to the government?


When it was announced on Monday that Mike Bracken, Executive Director of the Government Digital Service and the UK government’s Chief Data Officer, would depart from his role in October, it raised the question about which country he’d go to next. The man could go anywhere, but instead he’s chosen to head up the Co-operative Group as its Chief Digital Officer.

The Co-op said that Bracken will be responsible for “driving the group’s digital content and strategy” and he will report to CEO Richard Pennycook. His appointment is subject to SRA approval.

So why has Bracken decided to make the move into the private sector? Apparently “there are many parallels between Government and the Co-operative” he said when outlining the reasons behind his decision.

“The opportunity to work at scale, in a £10bn organisation, to chance to set a digital strategy and improve member experience; to work with inspiring colleagues all over the country; and to build strong businesses serving diverse audiences. It’s another fantastic challenge,” he said, adding that “the Co-operative movement is close to my heart. The values and ethics of Co-operatives are more relevant in society today than they have ever been and are highly congruent with the open Internet.  The group has millions of members, and its 70,000-plus colleagues are some of the most committed and community spirited I have met. The organisation, after some painful years, is in rebuild mode, and it is its digital strategy, focussed on its membership and people, that will define it in the next few years.”

Co-op was the subject of controversy last year, when a £1.5bn black hole was found in its bank's balance sheet, followed by the Co-op Bank’s disgraced Chairman Paul Flowers being charged with class A drug possession. Towards the end of the year, the Group’s Boss Euan Sutherland resigned after using Facebook as an outlet to to criticise the “disaffected people” in the “ungovernable” Co-op boardroom who had leaked his pay details. 

So it’s going to be a big job for Bracken, although he seems to know what’s he’s in for:

“There’s no reason why the Co-operative shouldn’t be able to move as fast and be as agile as any digital organisation – we will do that. But what will make it special will be feeding the organisation’s commitment to community engagement into the digital relationships we build. There are new opportunities to explore in the nascent ‘data economy’, in new services and platforms for co-operation – but they will be better and stronger because they will be infused with Co-operative values

This will require ambition, teamwork, listening to our members and correcting our course as we go, all based on the Co-operative values we inherited from the original pioneers. In Government, we worked hard to create an international movement of digital pioneers to remake the state, digitally. In the Co-op we already have the movement, now we have to remake it for the digital era.”

Published on Thursday 06 August by Veebs Sabharwal

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