Battle for Bata farmer co-op intensifies

Plans to demutualise North Yorkshire farmer co-operative Bata may be scuppered by members opposed to the move.

Under the co-op’s rules the required 50 members have signed a written requisition for a special members’ meeting.

On Wednesday 9 August Bata chief executive and secretary Andrew Richardson said that the board was checking the validity of the requisition.

The meeting will consider and vote on a resolution to terminate immediately the proposed conversion of the society to a private company limited by shares.

To succeed, this requires a simple majority of voting members attending the meeting.

See also: Bata farm co-op faces resistance to privatisation

A second resolution is effectively a no confidence vote in the co-op’s current board and calls for all existing directors to be removed from office. This requires a two-thirds majority of those voting at the meeting.

A special members’ meeting on 4 August gave an opportunity to discuss the proposed conversion and to question the Bata board. It was called at short notice by members who oppose the demutualisation.

Attended by about 120 members, the meeting lasted three and a half hours.

Farmers Weekly spoke to several members as they left. Most said they felt aggrieved because the proposal to convert had been sprung on them with little time to consider the change.

They said the vast majority attending had shown they were opposed to the conversion.

Stephen Greenfield manages the Sledmere Estate, which is a very long-standing society member. He said that questions asked at the 4 August meeting had not been answered.

“This was the first open consultation opportunity members had with the board. It was more like a party political broadcast,” said Mr Greenfield.

“It showed that the board is completely out of step with the feeling of the membership and there has been a lack of prior consultation.”

Another member said he had listened to the board’s arguments and that its objectives could be achieved under the current structure.

Although not a formal vote, the vast majority’s disapproval of the proposal to convert was indicated by a show of hands, with four abstentions and only three in favour.

On being asked about how the meeting had gone, Bata chief executive and secretary Andrew Richardson said he did not wish to comment as it was a private members’ meeting.

Mr Richardson was asked if members could have found out about the board’s plans for conversion in Bata board meeting minutes. He said these were not available to members because of commercial sensitivity.

Farmers Weekly has seen contemporaneous notes made of the 4 August meeting. Members asked if they could change their vote. Bata’s legal adviser confirmed that they could so.

Bata’s registered name is Brandsby Agricultural Trading Association Limited. It was established in 1894 and has just under 3,000 members entitled to vote.

The group had a turnover of £153m in the year to 30 September 2022.

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