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Report on ECF AGM held at the Britannia Hotel, Birmingham, on 15 October 2016
25.10.2016 Report prepared by Julie Denning 9 days after the event with the assistance of minimal notes and a fallible memory! [Editor: the original text has been lightly edited.]
1. Preliminaries. This is a new venue for a Council meeting. Good room, better chairs than some previous venues, but WiFi was poor. Proceedings opened at 13:35 and Council agreed the Board’s proposal that it be chaired by Julian Clissold (Non-Executive Director).
2. A minute’s silence was observed for members and colleagues who had died during the past year, with special mention of Richard Haddrell.
3. Minutes of the Finance Council held on 16th April 2016 were accepted as accurate without comment, prompting a light-hearted comment that we were missing Richard already!
4. Matters Arising. Phil Ehr asked what had come of the proposed National Chess Day. Answer – nothing more had been heard about it. Ben Edgell enquired about progress on the Mind Sports Centre project with the British Go Association. The response was that progress had been slow and no ECF expenditure had been incurred so far.
5. Board Report. As proposed by the Pearce Review, a single Board Report was presented to Council. It was generally accepted as a good report, although a number of comments were raised by Council. The very late arrival of this year’s Yearbook was noted. The Board put their collective hands up for this and promised to do better next year. John Foley observed that credit was due to the previous Board for improvements in communication with the membership. Angus French queried expenditure on publicity and on the funding of Junior chess by the JRYT. Phil Ehr raised comments on financial matters concerning sponsorship money. The Report was approved by Council.
6. Reports from the two Standing Committees were approved without significant comment.
7. Special Resolutions. Robert Stern, Chairman of Governance Committee, presented two resolutions. The first was to increase the maximum number of Directors from 10 to 12. This would permit the proposed election of a Director of Women’s Chess, with 1 spare slot should the Board seek to use it for some other purpose in the future. Mike Gunn observed that the higher figure remained within the range suggested by the SRA as appropriate for a body such as the ECF. The second motion concerned the FIDE Delegate, giving the Board the power to dismiss or suspend. This was a Pearce recommendation and was tidying up after the rejection by Council in April 2016 of the proposal that the FIDE Delegate no longer be an elected post. Both Special Resolutions met the required 75% majority in favour on a hand vote.
8. Amendments to Regulation No's 2 & 3 'Directors and Officers Responsibilities' and 'Arbiters and Coaches' were noted by Council.
9. Elections were a fairly tame affair compared to some in the recent past. “None of the above” was singularly unsuccessful throughout. Thus, in addition to Directors retaining their existing posts, Julian Clissold (out-going NED) was elected to the re-established post of Non-Executive Chairman of the Board and Sarah Longson was elected to the newly created post of Director of Women’s Chess.
Mike Gunn was elected, as the sole candidate, for the newly created post of Chairman of Council. Malcolm Pein was re-elected, unopposed, as FIDE Delegate.
The two Chairmen of Standing Committees (Robert Stern, Governance and Tim Herring, Finance) were elected, both having been appointed by the Board during the past year to fill vacancies. The proposed Members of each of these committees were approved. In the case of Governance, this involved Angus French being elected for the first time, having been appointed to the Committee by the Board during the past year, whilst the services of Richard Haddrell to this Committee had now been lost. There was one vote against Mike Gunn as a Member of the Governance Committee on the basis of a possible conflict between this and his new position of Chairman of Council.
All the above elections were clearly passed on hand votes. The only card voting was for the contested posts of Non-Executive Director. There were 4 candidates for 2 posts. Julie Denning was standing for re-election, whilst there were 3 new candidates. These were John Foley, who had served on a previous Board in this capacity, Stephen Woodhouse and Peter Hornsby. Julie Denning was forgiven by Phil Ehr for “slagging him off on the forum” (she remains mystified!) and was questioned on the appropriateness of another Director expressing support for her, given that such support for particular candidates had been contentious with Council in the past. She responded (honestly!) that she had no knowledge of this and if it had happened it was presumed to have been in the Director’s capacity of a Council Member.
John Foley adopted what some saw as an adversarial tone with the CEO regarding views the latter had expressed regarding the troubles with the UK Chess Challenge, using this to indicate his preparedness to confront issues and speak truth to power. Peter Hornsby, aided by Powerpoint slides, spoke of his achievements in promoting university chess activities. Stephen Woodhouse described his experience of having worked in both the legal (as a solicitor) and finance sectors. Once the card votes had been counted, the elected candidates were declared to be Julie Denning (240 votes) and Stephen Woodhouse (193 votes). Peter Hornsby received 55 votes and John Foley 31.
In your reporter’s opinion, John Foley may have been hindered in Council’s eyes as still carrying some baggage from the proceedings at the last AGM and in the tone he adopted this time. Whilst Peter Hornsby was unsuccessful, he spoke with passion and enthusiasm, and could well be an asset for the ECF – although perhaps not as a non-exec where his talents may not be used to the full.
10. Awards Committee. Stewart Reuben presented details of the various awards being made. These included the title of Honorary Life Vice-President being awarded to Richard Haddrell. It was noted that this would not be the first time it had been awarded posthumously, the recipient having died after the recommendation had been made. All recommendations were approved by Council. [editor: see ECF Awards 2016]
11. Strategy Statement. The revised document was presented and accepted, albeit seen by all as a developing document. David Fryer raised concern that actions such as reduced entry fees to congresses to try to encourage more female participation amounted to discrimination against men. He considered this quite wrong. However, the level of support for this view from Council made Jeremy Corbyn seem popular with Labour MPs.
12. SCCU Proposal. Following a request from the floor (not involving any SCCU representative) item 14 on the agenda was brought forward. This was the SCCU proposal that the penalty for a Union not taking up a place it had bid for in the Final Stage of the County Championships be reduced from £100 to £25. This was presented on our behalf by Chris Majer, referring to the paper prepared by David Sedgwick. The Director of Home Chess, who oversees the competition, proposed an amendment (against SCCU wishes) that the draw for the Final Stage be delayed until the teams being entered had been declared, thus eliminating the basis for any such penalty at all. Julie Denning, speaking on behalf of the SCCU, stated that this was not supported as they believed it was important for the draw to take place earlier, allowing teams greater indication of the opponents they were likely to face and time to plan accordingly. However, the amendment was overwhelmingly supported by Council, and so became the substantive proposal that Council also approved.
13. Finance. The Director of Finance presented a revised budget for 2016 / 17. There was only one change other than adopting the motions passed by Council in April to approve proposed expenditure, but with any shortfall covered by the reserves rather than by increases in membership and game fees. The change was the provision of £10,000 for bookkeeping expenses in the light of what was still seen as the forthcoming retirement of John Philpott as Financial Controller. This was approved by Council. He then went on to present current thinking for a 5-year plan. This envisaged increased expenditure to be covered by a mix of increased membership and game fees in the 2nd and 4th years of the plan, and by drawdowns of capital from the JRYT and PIFs. Any such drawdowns remain subject to concurrence with the stipulations of John Robinson’s will and approval of each set of Trustees. David Eustace emphasised that what he was seeking was guidance from Council on “a direction of travel” that would inform future budgets. There were more discussion points than my notes do justice to, but there was discussion on increased areas of expenditure and the extent to which members’ fees would be used to cover this. David Welch was concerned that the JRYT Trustees had not had the opportunity to discuss these plans before they were presented to Council. There was general support from Council for the plans.
14. Close of AGM. With the expected motion to extend the closing time having been proposed and passed, the meeting was concluded at 18:05.
15. BCF Council Meeting. As usual, during a break in the ECF AGM, the BCF Council Meeting was held and all business on its agenda was duly passed.
All the above was sadly overshadowed during the journey home as news of the death of John Philpott began to circulate.
ECF FINANCE COUNCIL MEETING
16.4.2016 at the Euston Thistle Hotel, London NW1 2LP. Approximately 40 attended, although the number of votes at the disposal of all Council members totalled 322. In the absence of the President, Non-Executive Director Julie Denning took the Chair. This report needs to be read in conjunction with the detailed motions on the published Agenda which can be accessed via the ECF Website.
1. Minutes of the previous meeting (in October 2015) were quickly dispatched with just two relatively minor corrections as notified earlier via the Office.
2. Matters arising elicited the information that the Board recognised that voting at Council meetings (particularly in elections) had to be tightened up. It was also confirmed that the Library was now consigned to storage with no immediate prospects of any change to what was an unsatisfactory situation.
3. Approval of Accounts for year ended 31st August 2015
Finance Director David Eustace presented the Accounts which showed a welcome surplus of £55K with the net sum of £44K added to reserves which now stood at very nearly £100K. Questions were raised as to the true total reserves at the disposal of the Federation and it was stated that the Board had plans to carry out a review of the situation in the near future. The Accounts were approved nem con.
4. Budget for 2016/17 and related matters
For the purpose of this report, Agenda items 6, 7, 8, 10 & 11 are combined.
Finance Director David Eustace presented his report together with Budget Proposals for 2016/17. The proposed Budget had Options A (recommended by the Board) and an alternative Option B which would involve no increase in either Membership Subscriptions or Game Fees. Option A included expansion of activities in a number of areas and details were given in presentations by several Directors including International, Junior and Home together with a contribution from the recently appointed Publicity Officer. Option A envisaged a planned series of increases in both Membership Subscriptions and Game Fees.
A detailed discussion ensued during which it emerged that whilst Council wished to support the expansion in activities detailed, it was of the opinion that the additional costs should be found from reserves rather than by any increase in Membership Subscriptions or Game Fee. A formal vote confirmed this decision.
5. Pay to Play fees in FIDE rated events. Motion carried with just two votes against
6. British Go Association. Council agreed that the Board should investigate a request from the British Go Association to establish a venue for Mind Sports in Central London.
7. Amendments to the Articles and Bye laws
to implement the recommendations of the Independent Constitutional and Governance Review Commission. The nine resolutions under this heading were all agreed except for items (E) & (F) which means that the FIDE Delegate will continue to be elected by Council.
8. County Championship Rule Changes
(A) A proposal that from 2016/17 onwards the ECF Open and Minor Counties Championships be FIDE-rated was amended to refer to the Open event only, after which change the motion was agreed.
(B) A proposal that the default dates for the QF and SF stages be split over two weekends to allow Counties to field more teams in the Final Stages was agreed.
At this point the meeting was closed at the extended time of 6.30pm, which meant that Agenda items 16 (Transparency of Council voting), 17 (Investigation of PQASSO Quality Mark) and 18 (AOB) could not be considered.
17.10.15 in the ECF's regular London venue, the Euston Square Hotel. In the regular basement room, which is maybe a bit on the small side for 50 people. We made it 51 or 52, plus a handful of officials / observers. According to the voting register the total number of votes available on a poll (sorry, card vote) was 324. However, 15 of them belonged to people who were not there and had appointed no proxy.
It was always going to be a difficult meeting, and chairman Julian Clissold obviously knew it. He acquitted himself well, though he will not have been prepared for the lesson we learned afterwards.
(1) Minutes (strictly, Matters Arising) from the April meeting. As you know, the April meeting discussed the future of the annual Yearbook and Diary. The latter got the thumbs down, and "will not be produced after 2016" (Minutes, April meeting). So the 2016 one you have now will be your last. So we thought as we embarked on that sentence, and we emerge from it in doubt. It's a 15-month diary, running from October 2015. It says 2016 on the front, but it was produced in 2015, so there's one more to go. Isn't there? Is there?
What we were going to say was that the Yearbook got a stay of execution in April, and it's got another. They're not quite so short-staffed in the Office now. The decision will be made after the 2016 edition appears, which is probably a distinction without a difference.
(2) Morning's Board meeting. The CEO gave a brief report of that morning's meeting. (The minutes are now on the ECF site.) The ECF's Protection Policy is being/has been updated; there is a new FIDE Academy in Durham; and the ECF has settled for £1200 to recompense a coach for loss of earnings when the coaching team got downsized. And Melville Rodrigues is the ECF's new legal adviser. He stood, but did not speak.
(3) Directors' and Officers' Reports, selectively
(a) President. The President was absent through work commitments. "But in any case I have from the outset believed that my main use as President to members is to raise public awareness of chess and to fund raise for the game in England, rather than attend disputatious meetings."
(b) CEO. It was now about 2 pm, half an hour into the meeting. The CEO's report on the ECF website had been published very late, but made up for it by its remarkable 24 pages.
"It is not meant to be totally positive." Council's response wasn't either. The Report covered a lot of ground, as you'll have gathered, and a number of specific instances were rehashed and argued over. A lot of it seemed to be infighting between factions. "Can we move on?", someone said half way through. The Chairman stepped in after 20-odd minutes. This was already seven minutes more than he had allocated; did Council wish to apply a guillotine? Council did.
The CEO's report was accepted by 12 votes to 7. Your Webmaster, perhaps unwisely, asked the meaning of accepting a Report. Getting no answer he made a point of voting against (abstaining might have been more appropriate) on the remaining Reports. Well, what is the answer?
(c) Finance Director. 2014-15 looked like turning out rather better than the April forecast. "The setting up of The Chess Trust is progressing. Unfortunately the opening of a bank account has taken much longer than anticipated because of identification and regulatory issues raised by our bank." Ring any bells? But that hurdle is negotiated.
The International budget reared its head, as always. We're potentially £5K short. This time the Chairman guillotined first and asked questions afterwards, but he did ask afterwards and Council agreed with him.
(d) Home Director started at 2.38 pm and was over in four minutes. Much had been already said. Those who might have said more, if such there were, were reticent or somnolent.
(e) Membership Director. The Director gave a rough update of the figures in his written report. He had not done a detailed breakdown, but Members currently were about 180 fewer than 12 months ago. Someone asked, "Do you think the shortfall is due to the increased Membership fees?" Director: "Yes."
The shortfall as we write, a fortnight after the meeting, is around 700. But what about the MOs who hang on to their lists and money until the end-October deadline? We've no idea how many there might be, but they may be distorting comparisons.
(f) Commercial Director. The ECF Forum - the other place, if you prefer - got some flak. It was effectively set up the Director, and he himself thought he could have done it better. The Board has decided to review the format of the forum.
There was also the Grand Prix, with added sponsorship from Tradewise. The new rules, announced on 1st July, were still not on the website at the time of the AGM (unless you had the password, and it was suspected by some that the page behind the password was empty). It's our belief everyone left it to someone else. Perhaps spurred by the meeting they had a version on the website five days later.
(g) Non-Executive Directors. The two NEDs reported jointly on paper, though only one spoke at the meeting. He spoke of the EBU's court case against Sport England, if that's the right way to put it. (The EBU lost, but can appeal.) If we understood it correctly, the ECF's peripheral involvement in the case cost £2½K.
We mention the next bit only as a curiosity. In the course of this Report we became aware of a snorer sitting a few feet from us. "It's not quite that boring," we thought. But he raised a hand at once when a vote was called for.
(h) Chairman, Governance Committee had little to add to his written report, which expressed his disappointment over most aspects of the Board's performance. "It seems plain that we cannot re-elect the same team as they seem to be incapable of working with each other."
It was now 3.44 pm and time for the tea break. It accommodated the BCF FINANCE MEETING, which lasted 8 minutes and approved the accounts it was supposed to approve. (You can download them.)
Now 4.05 pm and back to the ECF meeting.
(4) Elections. Let's start with the mechanics of it. Everyone, as last year, got five minutes to speak whether opposed or not, and voters had a single-sheet voting form which they filled in at the end. Practice varies from one AGM to another, and one thing was different. Last year, unopposed candidates were voted on at once by show of hands. This year, everyone went on the voting form. This was, perhaps, unwise given that the vote took place about an hour later this time. To be specific, the forms were collected at 5.35.pm and the tellers returned about five minutes before the extended finishing time of 6.30. They made no bones about the fact that the count had been hurried and some of their less critical figures were skipped or approximate. It emerged, next day, that at the tellers' suggestion the Company Secretary had done a recount in the closest - the only close - case, and concluded that the original count had elected the wrong person. A complete recount followed and the full correct results, more complete than usual, appeared on the ECF website on the Monday. We'll copy them out one of these days, but bear with us for the moment. This report has hung fire long enough.
The miscounting, if you hadn't guessed, is the lesson we mentioned at the start. Find a better way of doing it! But, to backtrack, there's a couple of election addresses we ought to mention.
(a) Home Director. Two candidates, including the incumbent. His opponent attacked, by scarcely hidden implication, some of the incumbent's perceived shortcomings. This did not prevent the incumbent's comfortable victory. But both advocated changes to grading, leading eventually to monthly grades. The incumbent went into this in some detail. An essential(?) first step would be the introduction of an ECF league-management program which organisers could use at their discretion. (There are already, of course, several such programs in local use.) He proposed to invite tenders for the software. "Any idea how much it will cost?" - No, but expenditure would have to be approved by the April Council meeting. "I am merely seeking election to start the investigation."
(b) Chairman, Governance Committee. The officer, who had been outspoken in his Report, went further in his election address. He would resign if the CEO was re-elected. This caused some consternation. A delegate, who held a lot of proxy votes, asked how he could reconcile it with his now-conflicting instructions. Others will have been in like case. Another member of the Governance Committee roundly condemned his chairman's stance. You know the voting figures, but repercussions have not ended with the meeting.
(5) Governance & Constitutional Review Commission. 5.41 pm now, and not much time for this. We won't summarise the Commission's report; you can download it. But a notable feature was that it did not recommend OMOV. Few of those consulted had expressed much interest in OMOV; apart from which the ECF at this moment had more pressing things to do than reform its voting structure.
Council heavily approved a motion calling on the Board to bring proposals to Council for implementing the Commission's recommendations. It was now 6.15 pm.
(6) Two SCCU Proposals. You know what these were. The first, on ECF insurance and Protection, was redundant in view of ECF work already under way. However, an SCCU person spoke to the proposal at length before finally withdrawing it. This left no time for the second proposal, on County match entry fees in the national stage. We don't know that there would have been time for it anyway, but we were puzzled by the self-destructive tactic.
(7) Future meetings. Finance 2016: Saturday 16 April in London. AGM 2016: Saturday 15 October in Birmingham.
The meeting closed at 6.30 pm, near enough exactly, after the tellers had told their best.
rjh 31.10.15. Please say if you find errors.
We have not tried to be exhaustive. Ben Edgell has much detail on the EC Forum.
Earlier material is in the Archive.
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