There follows a report by Julie Denning on these meetings
The SCCU Executive Committee meeting was held in London on 7th April. Detailed Minutes are being produced, but I will just try to summarise what I see as the main points from our meeting.
There was quite a lot of discussion on Junior Chess matters. The Junior Organiser (Angela Eyton) reported that there had been fewer teams this year in the U14 / 130 league and the inter-zonal final had yet to take place. She intends consulting interested parties on possible changes to the rules and age / grading limits. The Junior Jamborees had taken place, hosted by Richmond Junior Chess Club. A new entrant had been Maidenhead Juniors, who have applied to affiliate to SCCU as a Non-County Member. This might be controversial as Berkshire Juniors are already a Non-County Member, although they didn't take part in either League or Jamboree this year. Paul McKeown (Richmond Juniors) suggested that we might introduce an U18 League, which he would be happy to organise.
[Post-meeting note: Hampshire Junior Chess Association is being "restored to health" and have also applied to become a Non-County Member of SCCU.]
Clearly a few things to sort out, but I'm encouraged by the interest in our junior activities.
Michael Flatt noted this had been his first season as County Match Controller and expressed gratitude for the cooperation of team captains. Michael has also picked up the job of Webmaster. He initially created a new website specifically for County Match matters, but this will progressively replace the original site created by Richard Haddrell. Michael reported that because of the way Richard's site had been set up, it wouldn't be possible for him to take it over and it is presumed it will disappear once the last subscription paid by Richard runs out. However, all material from Richard's site is secure and will continue to be made available.
A few seasons ago I stepped into the vacant role of Grading Secretary, but with Michael Flatt now acting as Webmaster, he uses a results package that creates ECF grading files. Hence, there had been no need for any action on my part this season. It will be proposed at the SCCU AGM that Michael formally picks up this title as well. I could always act as back-up if this became necessary.
Mark Murrell reported on Safeguarding matters, a role he also fulfils for Essex County Chess. He has undergone 2 levels of training and a final level was planned for this month (May). The need for record keeping was raised, noting that the ECF insurance policy requires records to be kept for 30 years. It was agreed that the Junior Organiser would produce a report on this year's Junior Jamborees, summarising the event, those involved in running it and any significant points, if any, that arose. This is something that I believe all our clubs with junior members and Sussex Junior Chess need to ensure is addressed. The concern being that this is an area where a complaint might only surface many years later, when those involved have moved on and the organisation must be able to produce an account.
David Sedgwick, on behalf of Chess in Schools and Communities, proposed a nomination for a BCET award which the meeting endorsed. A further SCCU nomination is also anticipated.
At the time of our meeting it was anticipated that the ECF would introduce new qualification rules from 2018 for the British Chess Championships that would severely curtail the number of places that each Union could award to congresses. The likely outcome was that we would only be entitled to make one nomination, this being for the SCCU Champion. It was agreed that this honour should be given to the Thanet Congress. [Since the meeting, this curtailment has been confirmed.]
Paul Shepherd (Surrey CCA) tabled a discussion paper on the SCCU Rules concerning disputes arising from our County Matches. Views were mixed, with some concerned that the procedures might become overly complex and prescriptive. However, based on this discussion it is anticipated that Surrey will put a formal proposal to the SCCU AGM in July.
Progress on SCCU 125th anniversary events was noted. The SCCU entry for the World Senior Teams Championships, as referred to at the start of this report, was noted. It was agreed that the North vs South (of the river) match should take place on 16th September. A venue has yet to be confirmed. Chris Majer will be captain for the North team, whilst Mike Gunn will captain the South team. I hope that Sussex players will come forward in due course and we will be well represented in what is hoped will be a match involving at least 63 boards (i.e. >125 players).
Finally, we got around to discussing the agenda for the forthcoming ECF Finance Council and how SCCU should use its votes. Regarding the proposal to abolish Game Fee, Chris Majer reported that he was mandated by Hertfordshire to vote against, but the majority of the Committee were supportive of the proposal and the SCCU votes should be cast in favour. We also agreed to support the proposed ECF budget, whilst we should vote against all of the options on voting reform, this being clearly inline with our submission to the ECF consultation paper.
Now for the ECF and BCF Finance Council meetings, which were held in Birmingham on 22nd April. Once again, I was disappointed by the low turnout. I noted just 22 attendees other than Board Members and Chairs of Standing Committees. I had 11 votes at the ECF Council meeting, these being 9 in my own name (SCCU 3, Sussex CCA 1, MSCL 4 and one as a Director) and 2 proxy votes (Crowborough Congress and Platinum Members Representative). At the BCF Council meeting I had 3 votes, these being 1 each on behalf of SCCU and Sussex CCA and 1 as a Director.
The meetings were chaired by Mike Gunn in his newly-establish role of Chairman of Council. They started a little earlier than usual, at 12:30, as it was anticipated that the ECF Council agenda would inspire lengthy discussion. In the end this anticipation was misplaced, and I believe these were the first Council meetings I've attended where a Procedural Motion to extend the meeting was not required.
The BCF Council was held first. There was just one substantive item on the agenda. This concerned the Trustees of the John Robinson Youth Trust (JRYT) giving consideration in future to making grants out of capital from the trust, rather than only distributing income from the investments. (See this PDF file for details.) Stephen Woodhouse (Non-Executive Director) introduced the proposal. He reported that he had read John Robinson's will and it contained no stipulations in this regard. The practice of only distributing income appeared to have stemmed from an earlier BCF Council decision to give the Trustees "guidance" in this regard. It would be valid for Council now to decide to alter that guidance. It was pointed out that, if passed, the motion would in no way bypass the responsibilities of the Trustees to examine any request for funding, but it would give them greater discretion in the use of capital. David Welch, speaking as the Merseyside delegate, rather than as a Trustee of the JRYT), spoke passionately against the proposal. He suggested that the JRYT was being picked on whilst the ECF had access to other capital resources that they could use instead. He also suggested that the Haddrell bequest would be able to support the financial needs of the Junior Academy for years to come. On a hand vote, the motion put to Council was passed by 14 votes to 8. I voted in favour.
We then convened as the ECF Council. With housekeeping matters and accuracy of Minutes of the October 2016 AGM disposed of, there was a Matter Arising item. Amanda Ross, attending as a non-voting guest, raised the project to establish a Mind Sports Centre in London. She was concerned that the ECF had lost interest in pursuing this. She understood that at the Finance Council last year it had been agreed, subject to due diligence by the Board, to the ECF contributing 50% of the cost of further feasibility work and a willingness to invest £100k in the project if it went ahead. I was amongst those who pointed out that we did not recall any such agreement to a potential £100k investment, and a quick check of the relevant Minutes confirmed that the agreement only covered the on-going feasibility studies.
At this point a Procedural Motion was raised by the London League representative that the agenda item on the budget be deferred until the accounts for 2015 / 16 were available. This was put to, but rejected by, Council.
The gist of the proposal to abolish Game Fee, actually presented as amendments to Bye Law No. 2, was a carrot and stick approach. The carrot was that non-Members would be permitted to play up to 3 graded games in any club or league competition without charge. The stick was that on playing a 4th game in any such event, they, or the league / club, would be hit with a £25 charge. I saw merit in these proposals on a number of grounds:
- they were in line with the intention at the time the current Membership scheme was introduced that the Game Fee option would be temporary
- it would address a concern that the immediate need to pay either a Membership or Game Fee could be a disincentive for newcomers
- it would alleviate significant administration work for the ECF office in tracking and invoicing what are often quite trivial amounts
- it was appropriate that there was a degree of weight in the "stick" element to encourage membership uptake.
However, there was significant disagreement amongst Council members on the last of these points. After much discussion an amendment was put to Council that the penalty for playing more than 3 games be reduced to the level of the Bronze Membership Fee. This was passed by 16 votes to 11 on a hand vote. (I voted against.) The substantive motion, as thus amended, was then voted on and passed by 29 votes to 1 (that being Chris Majer in accordance with the mandate he had from his County).
We then turned to Financial matters and the proposed budget for 2017 /18. There was general concern at the lack of out-turn figures for the financial year ended 31st August 2016. John Philpott had been doing the bulk of the bookkeeping in his role as Financial Controller. Whilst not wishing to diminish the enormous contribution John had made to the running and financial wellbeing of the ECF over many years, he had yet to put in place adequate backups or taken steps to hand over these functions. His premature death had therefore created significant problems. These are very much in hand now, with the bookkeeping function out-sourced to a company that is computerising the accounts. However, the Finance Director was not yet able to provide definitive figures for the end of the last financial year, although no great surprises are envisaged.
My notes will not do justice to all the discussion points that were raised, but I will try to highlight the more significant ones.
David Eustace (Finance Director) reported that the Richard Haddrell bequest was expected to amount to around £400k. Richard's will stipulates that this is to go to the Chess Trust and used to benefit junior chess activities.
Angus French had questions regarding the Junior Directorate figures. A meeting is to be arranged involving Angus, David Eustace and Traci Whitfield (Junior Director).
There was significant discussion on the forthcoming move of the ECF office to larger accommodation in the same building as it currently occupies.
[The background to this, as best as I understand it, is as follows. In early 2015 the library had been given its marching orders from its university home in Hastings. The then Board put two options to the 2015 Finance Council. The first was to move to larger offices at Battle - the same offices as are now being taken up - which would provide space for the library as well. The second was to move the library into commercial storage whilst seeking a long-term solution. It was envisaged that such storage would cost around £2,500 pa and provide sufficient space to allow on-going sorting and at least limited public access. This second option was significantly cheaper. Council went for the second option and the library was duly boxed up and put into storage in Eastbourne. However, the anticipated annual cost of £2,500 proved unrealistic. It is currently more like £3,500 and, even then, is not buying sufficient space to permit any meaningful access or sorting. No progress has been made on finding a cheaper long-term solution. In the meantime, the alternative office space in the building at Battle had remained vacant. Going back a further 2 or 3 years, the ECF had reduced the office staffing and moved those who remained into their current smaller office space (from yet another office suite in the same building) as a response to the loss of government funding that had been running at £60k a year. This office space is seen as very marginal with essentially no spare working space for anyone else (Director / bookkeeper / auditor or anyone else who might need to visit). The current Board therefore decided once again to investigate the option of moving into the larger office suite that had been considered, but rejected by Council, in 2015. This was seen as being of clear benefit for the working of the office, whilst again having the additional benefit of providing space for sorting and displaying the library. Although it could be argued that circumstances had changed since 2015, particularly regarding the anticipated cost of, and access to, the commercial storage, it was felt that what was being proposed was not sufficiently different from what Council had rejected then, that it could be decided by the Board without being put to Council first. The next twist in the saga was that the ECF became aware that the landlord of the Battle offices finally had another prospective tenant who was keen to rent the larger office suite we were looking at and that if we delayed a decision until after this Finance Council, we would very likely have lost the option. To resolve this conflict between time and the need to consult Council, the Board put out a consultation paper to the Membership at large on the 8th March requesting comments by 13th March. The only response - expressing concern - was from Angus French. Given this limited response, the Board authorised the signing of the lease for the larger offices. After allowing for the saving on the cost of storage in Eastbourne, the net increase in ECF accommodation costs is about £5k pa. The move is currently underway and the library will be moved over the next few weeks. Moral of the story: if anyone offers you a large collection of books, only accept if they also provide the finance for their upkeep!]
A final vote was taken on the proposed budget, including increases in Membership Fees (but excluding references to Game Fee as the abolition proposal, albeit amended, had been passed by Council) and was passed by 27 votes to 4. I voted in favour.
The final substantive item on the agenda was the proposals concerning possible voting reform. Passionate arguments were advanced both for and against reform, including by myself. I emphasised I was not speaking as a Director as I was at odds with the majority of the Board on this matter. I referred to the SCCU response to the consultation paper and which had been appended to the final paper put to Council. I stressed that I was not against the ECF operating democratically, but that I did not believe any of the current proposals would bring about effective democracy. My concern was that experience showed that only a tiny minority of the Membership ever took an interest in ECF matters, other than the level of their Membership Fees, and that greatly expanding the voting rights given directly to Members would be vulnerable to factional interests gaining undue influence. As an example, I referred to the response to the current consultation. At 25 responses it was better than some other consultations, but still only represented 0.25% of the total membership. Despite my personal misgivings, I conceded that in the card voting that was proposed I would split my votes with regard to "Option 3", which proposed retaining the current concept of a Council, but with significantly greater voting power given to Direct Member Representatives. From other contributions to the discussion, I felt that those present were pretty evenly split between those who sympathised with my views and those who fundamentally disagreed.For details of the various options, please refer to this PDF file
The intention of the voting at this meeting was to judge whether any of the suggested options had sufficient support to justify a detailed proposal being put to the next AGM in October. Noting that any such changes would require amendment to the Articles of Association, they would require a 75% majority of the votes cast. Voting at this meeting was by the card method, with the following outcomes:
- Option 1 (pure "OMOV") : For: 12, Against: 191
- Option 2 (all Council Members elected by direct member voting): For: 15, Against: 188
- Option 3 (existing Council members but with increased voting rights for Direct Member Representatives): For: 119, Against: 84, Abstention: 1 (Majority of 58.3% in favour)
(I voted against Options 1 and 2 and split my votes on Option 3 as 4 For and 7 Against. I didn't try to allocate specific votes for and against Option 3, but felt this was an honest representation of the range of views that had been given to me from my own consultations.)
Whilst Option 3 clearly received majority support, this support was significantly below 75%, indicating that any such formal and detailed proposal put to Council at the next AGM was unlikely to be passed. However, in on-going discussion, it was felt that there would be merit in giving further consideration to some lesser means of increasing the votes allocated to Direct Member Representatives.
As there was a significant break in proceedings whilst the above voting was counted, the Chairman had called for any items of AOB. Phil Ehr raised a number of points. He suggested that the Board should reflect upon the possibility that undue stress had been placed on John Philpott and this might have contributed to his demise. Once again, he couldn't resist taking a swipe at the Finance Director who, he felt, needed a rest. Phil also reported that he had recently visited Andrew Paulson, who was now in poor health. One duty that Phil had retained for the ECF was as a joint representative (along with Mike Gunn) to the Sport and Recreation Alliance. He announced he would be standing down from this responsibility from the end of April. His reason was that he intended returning to the USA, where he was hoping to run for Congress as a Democrat in 2018! He would, however, be splitting his time between the USA and the UK for family reasons, so might still be able to attend our Council meetings.
Malcolm Pein (International Director) reported that there might be a sponsor to run an English Rapidplay Championship.
The next AGM will be held in London on 14th October.
The meeting closed at 17:15.
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