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Co-op launches customer poll about its future

EUAN Sutherland, the Scot who heads Co-operative Group, has admitted it has lost touch with its customers as he seeks to rebuild it after losing control of Co-operative Bank.

The group has launched an online nationwide poll about its future.

Co-op has more than 400 food stores, 120 funeral homes, and more than 60 pharmacies in Scotland.

Mr Sutherland said: "We will be asking people up and down the country what they believe the Co-operative should really stand for.

"This is an unprecedented move for an organisation of the size and the scale of the Co-operative and the results will feed directly into our wider review of strategy and purpose.

"In recent years the Co-operative has lost touch with its customers and members and with the communities in which it operates: we haven't been listening."

The survey at www.haveyoursay.coop asks questions from how to improve its goods and services, and how Co-op shares its profits to whether the Co-op should make political donations.

The food-to-funerals group is preparing to reveal results for 2013 at the end of next month, figures that will be "pretty ugly" due to the rescue of its bank arm, according to Mr Sutherland.

After failing to pull off a deal to buy 631 branches from Lloyds Banking Group, including the former Lloyds TSB Scotland business, Co-op revealed last year it had a £1.5 billion capital shortfall.

The restructuring of the business has seen it fall under the control of bondholders.

Former bank chairman Paul Flowers is being investigated by the police for allegedly buying illegal drugs.

The group now faces a raft of inquiries into what went wrong at the bank.

But its 2800-store food chain had relatively "strong" Christmas trading after like-for-like sales rose 1% in the 13 weeks to January 4.

Mr Sutherland said last summer that it could take four years to turn around the group.

The Edinburgh-born executive was recruited from retailer Kingfisher, owner of do-it-yourself chain B&Q in the UK, to succeed Peter Marks who retired.

He was raised in North Berwick and Bearsden, Glasgow, and worked at retailer Alliance Boots and soft drinks giant Coca-Cola before joining Kingfisher where he is chief operating officer.

There are around 475,000 Co-operative Group members in Scotland.

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