County leader takes up hotseat of Co-op group in time of crisis

The new chairman of Co-op Group, Ursula Lidbetter, at the South Holland Enterprise Day and Business Awards with Spalding & District Chamber of Commerce president 'Phil Scarlett, Jamie Cooper of Network Rail, Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Simon Beardsley and the chief executive of Springfields Horticultural Society, David Norton.
The new chairman of Co-op Group, Ursula Lidbetter, at the South Holland Enterprise Day and Business Awards with Spalding & District Chamber of Commerce president 'Phil Scarlett, Jamie Cooper of Network Rail, Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Simon Beardsley and the chief executive of Springfields Horticultural Society, David Norton.

The head of Lincolnshire Co-operative is the new chairman of the entire group as the scandal over its former banking chairman Paul Flowers grows.

Ursula Lidbetter MBE, chief executive of the county’s co-operative, was appointed chairman a week ago in place of Len Wardle who quit over his role in making Mr Flowers chairman of Co-op Bank in 2010.

Ursula Lidbetter. Photo: Tim Wilson

Ursula Lidbetter. Photo: Tim Wilson

Miss Lidbetter, who was at the South Holland Enterprise Day and Business Awards last Wednesday, is heading up a full review of how the Co-op Group is run while still keeping her job in Lincolnshire.

She said: “I’ve taken the chairman’s role after being deputy chairman and what has heartened me is the strength of support from the public, Co-op members and staff.

“In Lincolnshire, we’re lucky to have a wonderful Co-op and if I can help other Co-ops by giving some of my time (as non-executive chairman), then I will do.”

One of Miss Lidbetter’s other jobs will be to manage the media firestorm threatening to engulf the Co-op Group ever since a national newspaper published video footage of Mr Flowers allegedly buying illegal drugs.

He has since been suspended as a Methodist Church minister and a Labour Party member and his home in Bradford was searched by police who arrested him on Friday in connection with an investigation into supplying drugs.

Miss Lidbetter said: “It’s quite a challenging time at the moment but us people from Lincolnshire are practical and just get on with things.”