John Lewis Partnership chair Dame Sharon White faces scrutiny over her strategy as the group’s council meets.

At a meeting scheduled for today and tomorrow, employee representatives will question the retailer’s direction under White, who has controversially raised the prospect of seeking external investment – a break with tradition that some fear would jeopardise the unique co-owned structure of John Lewis.

The debate will take place at what is termed a ‘holding to account session’. Under the Partnership’s constitution, after each trading half the chair attends a council meeting to account for progress.

The Sunday Times reported that some council members want a secret ballot on what some see as amounting to a vote of confidence in White. However, a spokeswoman told the newspaper that the request for secrecy was because councillors did not want their names to appear in the media.

A source familiar with the situation said the holding to account vote should not be seen as the same as a confidence vote, but was an expression of the council’s majority view.  

President of the Partnership council Chris Earnshaw said: “Since 1919, the chairman has held sessions with our council to reflect on the performance of the Partnership. This is a routine part of our democratic process.”

On the question of external funding, John Lewis said: “Our Partnership model is what makes John Lewis and Waitrose special and will always be the heart of our business. It has helped us build the strong and well-capitalized business that we have today.

“We keep under review our future funding needs so we have options to fuel the next stage of our growth plan, but nothing is happening in the short term. Right now we are focused on continuing to deliver the best possible experience for our customers while improving the performance of our business.”