Co-operative Group chairman Len Wardle is to step down from the company next year after six years in the position.

The news comes at a precarious time for the group, which has come under pressure to relinquish its majority share in its banking arm to stabilise the business.  

Wardle said he intends to stand down in May next year, and that he wants to “persuade our members that The Co-operative Group should now look to an independent chair to lead the business, working side-by-side with the members who represent the movement”.

Wardle said: “In August this year, I informed the board that it was my intention to step down at the end of my term of office while also making clear that I wanted to drive hard the reforms to modernise the group.

“During the last year, we have appointed Euan Sutherland as group CEO and started the changes that I believe will make The Co-operative Group stronger than ever.

“The Co-operative is at its best when it is reforming and I want this change to continue.

 “I am immensely proud to have led the group and to have chaired The Co-operative over the last six years.”

 Sutherland said:  “Firstly, I want to thank Len for his leadership and commitment to The Co-operative over the last six years. Under his guidance we have made significant progress on beginning the reform which we will announce as planned in May 2014. I look forward to working with colleagues and members to ensure that we return the business to growth over the coming years.”