Swimming against the tide towards the mainstream the cws fred lambert 1956 1970 an unsung visionary
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Swimming against the Tide towards the Mainstream: The CWS & Fred Lambert, 1956-1970 - an Unsung Visionary? . Tony Webster: Mainstreaming Co-operation: An Alternative for the 21 st Century?. The post war context & the problems of the Co-operative Movement 1945-1973.

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Tony Webster: Mainstreaming Co-operation: An Alternative for the 21 st Century?

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Swimming against the Tide towards the Mainstream: The CWS & Fred Lambert, 1956-1970 - an Unsung Visionary?

Tony Webster: Mainstreaming Co-operation: An Alternative for the 21st Century?

The post war context & the problems of the Co-operative Movement 1945-1973

  • Rise of consumer society – declining loyalty and engagement with collective organisations – declining activity and loyalty of membership (Walton)

  • Growth of ‘dry goods’ trade – co-ops weak in this

  • Rise of multiples – more capital (public companies) – relocation of stores – town centres and prime sites – began to win bigger market share

  • Problems for 1000 co-op retail societies in changing store sites, developing new larger stores – even though early lead in such innovations as self service

  • Co-operative Independent Commission 1956-58Need for society amalgamations; development of modern professional management; modernisation of stores; development society; idea of CWS becoming buyer for the movement – BUT NOT REALLY IMPLEMENTED

  • But – subsequent efforts at reform – Joint Reorganisation Committee 1965 and Regional Plan – Philip Thomas late 1960s – again though only partly effective

  • 1973 – Scottish crisis – merger of SCWS & CWS

The post war context & the problems of the Co-operative Movement 1945-1973 (2)

  • 1960s – society amalgamations – but mainly because of growing difficulties – Regional societies & regional plan

  • Rise of CRS – increasingly friction & rivalry with CWS?

  • Declining market shares!

  • Regional societies – strong sense of independence from CWS – resulted in even more fragmented movement and less collaboration between regionals and CWS

  • CIS & Co-op Bank – little collaboration – Co-operative Permanent Building Society = became Nationwide and distanced itself from the movement

  • Acquisition of SCWS – CWS = became a major retailer – intensified competition with CRS & regional societies

The Co-operative Movement, the CWS and the question of leadership and vision

  • Common held perception of post war decline being in part due to a lack of vision and strong leadership

  • This view = most pointedly made by Leigh Sparks in his 1994 article in the Journal of Co-operative Studies. Sparks – only decent leader – Philip Thomas, an outside appointment to CEO whose career = cut short by plane crash in 1967.

  • Tendency by Sparks and others to see a lack of desire for reform, weak leadership, failure to identify the problem of the movement during a period of major retail change – exemplified by slow and partial implementation of CIC recommendations

  • Notion that 1940s/50s – little inclination towards serious reform – even 1944 failed merger attempt between SCWS and SWS = didn’t really address key issues (Birchall 1994)

Fred Lambert, vision & leadership

  • Lambert’s career = in many ways gives the lie to this negative assessment of the movement’s appreciation of its problems in this period & its capacity to see creative solutions

  • Argument here is that the reasons for the failure of the movement to reform itself successfully = not essentially one of leadership – but rather the consequence of longstanding divisions and structural dysfunctionalities within the movement which stymied a number of progressive reform initiatives which originated from within the movement as well as from external sources such as CIC.

  • Ultimately – it was the weakening of these divisions by protracted decline, successive mergers and a realisation that demise would be the inevitable result of failure to reform which made possible the success of reforms in the 19990s/2000s when earlier initiatives had failed.

Fred Lambert – who was he?

  • Joined CIS in 1927

  • Took BA Com at Manchester University in 1932

  • 1933 – joined CWS publicity dept worked with Percy Redfern

  • Worked on the first major independent enquiry into the British co-operative Movement – Carr Saunders – report in 1938.

  • Established Market Research dept for CWS – which he was to head until the late 1960s, when he became an economic planning officer for the organisation

  • Sir Arthur Sugden, CWS CEO in late 1960s: ‘There were, in fact, very few Co-op developments with which Fred was not involved,’

  • Retired 1970 – died 1990

Fred Lambert on retirement in 1970

The impact of the War on the Movement

Co-op News 9 Nov 1946

Lambert & reforming the Movement – WW2

  • WW2 – co-op leaders = much more vision and desire for change to meet demands of post war world than claimed– initiatives from both within the CU and the CWS

  • Key objectives = outlined by R.A. Palmer, in speech to National Co-operative Managers Association in Manchester on 17 Sept 1941

  • Idea of DISTRICT SOCIETIES to which retail societies would affiliate as shareholders voluntary – aim -= emergence by evolution of 60 District societies – with stronger buying power; & with better relationship with CWS

  • CWS = actively promoted this – involved in promoting Federal or District Societies to run common services in Manchester, North Wales and Kent

  • Also – own body to explore post war reform – ‘Advisory Committee on Post War Problems’ from April 1942 – supportive of rationalise of societies, promotion of more centralised buying by CWS and groups of societies, and re arrangements for dry goods trade

  • Lambert – as Head of Market Research Bureau at heart of this – 1943 – his paper: “The Re-orientation of the CWS” - very influential in the development of the official CWS post-war strategy document: REPORT BY THE BOARD OF THE CWS ON ITS POLICY AND PROGRAMME FOR POST WAR DEVELOPMENT (1944)

Self Service

Lambert & reforming the Movement post WW2

  • But – divided movement – resistance to reform from retail societies – still 1000 in 1950

  • Nonetheless – Lambert = maintained prominent role in promoting innovation – ‘Beefed up’ Market Research Bureau post war – articles in 1946 on importance of market research and the threat from the multiples.

  • Major driver behind spread of self service (in which movement had lead in 1950s) – 1951: ‘Self Service Shops: A Joint Report’ (written with J.Hough of CU)

  • 1956-58: Co-operative Independent Commission – Lambert & Hough = advisers to the CIC – Lambert = important ‘go between’ between the CIC and the CWS.

  • CWS – presented its own statement of proposed changes before commission sat – Lambert = important role in drafting this, and also in refining it. Lambert – knew likely resistance from retail societies – wanted piece meal approach to reform, to persuade retail societies to accept more amalgamation, centralised stores for dry goods controlled by CWS – LAMBERT WORKED ASSIDUOUSLY FOR A CLEAR CWS LINE.

The Co-operative Independent Commission


A rare successful CWS dry goods venture…

Lambert, the CIC & after

  • BUT – CWS = divided – (Majority & Minority report) – limited influence over CIC

  • CIC report 1958 – largely unimplemented

  • But Lambert – continued to press for reform of movement – WITH CWS TAKING LEADING ROLE

  • 1963 – ‘The Role of the CWS’ – set out ne wplans for reform of CWS and movement. Main points:

    - Regional CWS warehouses – to ease CWS into buying role for the movement

    - Saw this as essential – amalgamated societies, argued Lambert, =likely to become more independent of CWS – cut their own deals with wholesalers and manufacturers

    - argument for closer collaborative relationships between CWS &Retail societies & other national bodies

    Influence over Joint Reorganisation Report of 1965, Operation Facelift & Regional Plan of late 60s.

Significance of Lambert’s career

  • Notion of lack of vision & leadership – gross over-simplification – or just plain wrong!

  • Within CWS – from 1940s – there were those who anticipated the severe problems the movement would face post-war; & they did work hard to address them

  • Problem = not a lack of leadership – but rather strength of desire for local autonomy – impossible for leaders to win the argument!

  • In long run – reform = ultimately only successful from 1990s, when the need for reform = underlined by the imminent prospect of the demise of the CWS and the movement generally.

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