John Lewis chair Dame Sharon White has won the backing of the partnership council in what was widely seen as a vote of confidence in her leadership.

Today’s meeting of the council, which passed judgement on recent performance and support going forward, condemned the former but gave White a thumbs up as she seeks to turn around the troubled retail institution, which owns Waitrose as well as eponymous department stores.

John Lewis Partnership council president Chris Earnshaw said after today’s key poll: “The council voted in support of the chair to progress the partnership in relation to its purpose, principles and rules.

“The council did not support last year’s performance in which we reported a full-year loss and no partner bonus.

“The council, chair and board will continue to work together to ensure the long-term success of the partnership and our employee-owned model.”

JLP suffered a £234m loss last year and partners missed out on the retailer’s famous bonus. On top of trading difficulties, the business has been spooked by the possibility that external investment may be sought. Many people fear that would dilute the unique co-owned model and sense of purpose that has been a foundation stone of its success.

A John Lewis source said there was no way the council could have lent its support on past performance after such trading woes. However, the support for White will be seen as oil on troubled waters, though it is caveated with points about purpose and principle.

White said in her address to the council that she would never compromise on what has made the partnership so distinctive. She said: “I want to be absolutely categorical. The John Lewis Partnership will always be an employee-owned business. No ifs, not buts… our model is the very reason I joined the partnership.”