The 2016 ECF AGM is due to be held on Saturday 15th October. The agenda and papers are all available on the ECF website ( http://www.englishchess.org.uk/about/ecf-council-and-board/
). I’m not expecting too much to be controversial this time. Indeed, despite this not being the Finance Council meeting, I suspect the Finance Director’s paper and forward planning might be what attracts the most interest.
(The SCCU Executive Committee met last Friday. I didn’t consult with you on this as there didn’t seem to be anything on which I needed guidance, not to mention pressure of other tasks.)
In accordance with a recommendation from the Independent Governance and Constitutional Review (the Pearce Review), there is a single Board Report, although I expect Council to be able to question any Director about its contents.
There are a couple of proposals to amend the Articles. As such, they are Special Resolutions, requiring a 75% majority to be passed. I don’t see either as controversial and propose that we support both. The first seeks to increase the maximum number of Directors from 10 to 12. We have operated this year with 9, but the Finance Council in April approved the re-establishing of the post of Board Chairman, taking us back up to the current limit, assuming this post is filled at the AGM. The Board now also wish to create a Directorship for Women’s chess, but this is dependent upon this proposal to increase the permitted number of Directors. Going to 12 gives the Board 1 spare slot. There are no definite plans to use this at the moment, but I note that the post of Commercial Director has not been filled since Bob Kane was unseated at the last AGM. The second Special Resolution is to provide for the Board being able to dismiss the FIDE Delegate. This again comes from the Pearce Review, which recommended this provision for both Directors and the FIDE Delegate. This was implemented in April in the case of Directors, but was not pursued then for the FIDE Delegate as the Board proposed to change the status of this Delegate to being a Board appointee (with it following that the Board could fire as well as hire) rather than elected by Council. This was rejected by Council. Hence the need to return to the Pearce Review recommendation. As with dismissing a Director, it is expected that this facility would only be used in extremis. For example, if the FIDE Delegate was deemed to have gone rogue and was pursuing a personal agenda at variance with Board or Council views.
There are amended versions of Regulations Nos. 2 (The Directors and Officers Responsibilities Regulations) and 3 (The Arbiters and Coaches Regulations). Traditionally, Regulations are shown to Council to comment on, but do not require Council approval to come into effect. The former flows again from Pearce recommendations, and a recognised need for a tidy up. The second follows proposals from the Director of Home Chess on which he went out to consultation. The changes are limited to aspects of training and qualifications of arbiters, and aligning these between national and FIDE systems. Not areas in which I am knowledgeable, but all seems reasonable to me. I would, however, point out one thing that is not included. The paper that went out to consultation included a requirement that Leagues and Congresses have a formal arrangement with an arbiter of “Level 2 or above” to resolve any disputes. Such arbiters are relatively few in number. I’m only aware of one based in Sussex (Mike Forster, who has agreed to act on behalf of the MSCL if needed). The proposed sanction for failing to comply was exclusion from grading. I raised this at the last MSCL AGM and the view seemed to be that no one could remember an instance where such an arrangement would have made any difference. Having a highly qualified arbiter on board can’t be a bad thing, but I took the view that demanding it was unnecessary and the threatened sanction of exclusion from grading, which I believe would effectively put a League out of business, was way over the top. I responded to the consultation along these lines in my capacity of MSCL Delegate to ECF Council. I was rather horrified then to discover that despite the Home Director conceding that everyone who had commented on this aspect had done so negatively, he proposed pressing ahead with the change. This was brought to a recent Board meeting and I suspect would have been nodded through if I hadn’t intervened with a counter-paper. Fortunately, as recorded in the published Minutes of the meeting, the majority of the Board sided with my view. Hence, this threat will not hang over the MSCL or any other League. The alternative suggestion is that Leagues will still be asked to identify an arbiter they have access to, but could also seek such a service, without charge, via the ECF, and in any case there will be no threat of exclusion from grading. One small success.
Next on the agenda are the elections, where I’m the only incumbent facing a contest. All incumbent Executive Directors, and the FIDE Delegate, are seeking re-election and none are opposed. From my experience of working with them over the past year I could make one or two minor criticisms (as, no doubt, they could of me), but none that come close to me suggesting that we reach for the nuclear option, as we did in some cases last year, and vote for “none of the above”. Hence, I propose that I cast my votes in favour of all of them. Julian Clissold, who has served as my fellow NED this year, is standing for the re-established post of Board Chairman. He or I have actually chaired all Board meetings this year. He is thorough and business-like, and I propose that we support him for this change of post. Sarah Longson is the only candidate for the new Directorship of Women’s Chess and I propose that we vote for her. As far as the Board is concerned, this leaves just the NED posts, of which there are 2, with 1 having been vacated by Julian Clissold seeking a different post. I am standing for re-election, and hope that you see fit for me to cast our votes in my favour. There are 3 other candidates. The Julian Clissold and I are nominating Stephen Woodhouse, who is a qualified solicitor who has also worked extensively in financial matters. It is likely that he would have been nominated by the Board jointly, but there was a view that the Executive Directors should not be seen as taking a role in proposing the non-execs. John Foley, who has served previously in this role, but chose last year to challenge, unsuccessfully, for the post of Director of Home Chess, is seeking to return as a NED. He has been nominated by Malcolm Pein, the Director of International Chess. I don’t believe John was seen as the biggest villain of the peace last year, nor that it would be disastrous if he was reappointed to an NED post. He is involved, along with Malcolm Pein, in Chess in Schools and Communities and some might see this as an attempt to increase the influence of that organisation on the ECF Board. Some on Council, may still be hostile towards him following the fiascos on the Board last year. I anticipate him getting some support, but probably not overwhelming. The final candidate is Peter Hornsby, nominated by 2 County Associations and by Phil Ehr. He has been active in university chess, but is generally an unknown quantity to the rest of us. He may not have realised that being nominated by the previous CEO may not been seen by Council as career-enhancing, but that doesn’t mean he is not necessarily a worthy candidate. The SCCU votes are to be cast in favour of myself and Stephen Woodhouse, and I propose that I do likewise with the Sussex votes.
Mike Gunn is the sole candidate for the newly-created post of Council Chairman. He is well known to us through both SCCU and ECF roles in the past. Even if there were other candidates, I anticipate Mike would enjoy widespread support from Council, and I propose that we use our votes to endorse his election. I also propose that we support all nominations for the Finance and Governance Standing Committees. Both are currently chaired by individuals appointed during the year by the Board, so are actually standing for the first time for election by Council. I’ve had little opportunity yet to work with Tim Herring as Chairman of the Finance Committee, but can vouch for Robert Stern having been an excellent choice as Chairman of Governance who has already made a major contribution.
The AGM will be asked to endorse a number of awards proposed by the Awards Committee. The only one I wish to comment on is the proposal that Richard Haddrell become an Honorary Live Vice-President. As many of you will know by now, Richard sadly passed away last Friday. I’m not aware of a formal decision yet, but understand there’s a school of thought that says that as the proposal was announced before his death, there is no reason why it shouldn’t go ahead. I’m sure you will all agree with me that I hope it does.
The Board are presenting to Council a new Strategy Statement for approval. Boards past, and probably present, have a poor record in developing formal strategy and business plans. I hope the latest offering will be seen as moving in the right direction, but such a statement will always need to be kept under review and I anticipate Council will still raise some critical points.
The Finance Director is presenting a paper and a 5 year plan. Although one might expect such material to be reserved for a Finance Council meeting held each spring, I can understand why he wants some Council time at this meeting also. At the Finance Council last April, he got a bit of a pick-and-mix. Council approved increased spending plans, but not increases in membership and game fees to finance them. Instead, it was decided that any shortfall should be covered from the reserves that currently stand at around £100k. The first objective of the Finance Director for this meeting is simply to present a reconstructed budget for the current year based on the April decisions. Secondly, he is seeking guidance from Council on his proposals in the 5 year plan and on which he might bring future budgets to Council with expectation that Council will approve them. The plan still envisages losses each year that will need to be covered from a combination of reserves and capital from the Permanent Invested Funds / Chess Trust, but does include proposed modest increases in membership and game fees in 2017 / 18 and again in 2019 / 20. Obviously, without such increases either the losses will be significantly higher or activities will have to be cut back. In each case the proposed increase is £1 for Bronze and proportionate increases for other levels of membership. I appreciate this is always a controversial area, with some being opposed to any further increases in ECF dues, particularly with the main areas of expenditure being Junior and International chess, both of which are areas where most of our members are unlikely to benefit. For my part, I’ve never made a secret of being rather more sympathetic to what the ECF sets out to achieve and that progressive, small increases in membership fees are reasonable. I suspect that to reflect the mix of views honestly, I will again need to split my votes for and against the proposals if they go to a card vote. Finally, the Finance Director is proposing the transfer of approximately £160k to the Chess Trust, which is the charity that has been set up but which awaits funds.
I could go into more detail on the finances, but suspect most would note it only for its soporific qualities, so I’ll leave it to others to raise questions with me if they so wish.
The final substantive item on the agenda is a proposal from the SCCU on the County Championship Rules. Previously, the SCCU had made a proposal to amend the way entry fees for the County Championship were levied. This got timed-out at one Council meeting and I subsequently got it killed off within the SCCU as I saw it being counter-productive. The latest proposal has arisen as an alternative, although in truth it addresses a rather different point. At present, Unions are required to state, by the end of December, how many places they are seeking in the Final Stage of the championship. The draw is then conducted within the first 2 months of the new year. By the end of March, each Union is required to put county names alongside each place it had bid for. If a Union fails to take up a place that was bid for, and accepted into the draw, they are liable to a penalty of £100. If there are more than 8 teams entered in any competition, a Final Stage preliminary round will normally be scheduled for the 4th Saturday in April. Otherwise, quarter-finals will normally be played on the 3rd weekend of May. The proposal contained within the latest SCCU Paper is that this £100 penalty be reduced to £25. (We would not be averse to an amendment eliminating the penalty altogether, but chose to limit our ambitions to this reduced figure.) The rationale is a fear that some Unions limit the number of places they bid for to avoid the risk of this penalty, thus potentially reducing the number of teams that might have played in the Final Stage. I have discussed this with the Home Director who indicated that his concern was not having to redo the draw due Unions not fulfilling their initial pledges. If we (and he believed it was only the SCCU who had opposed this in the past) would agree to the draw not taking place until the actual county names were confirmed in March, he would be happy to introduce this change into the Rules, eliminating any need to go to Council. By removing the requirement to bid for places ahead of actually entering specific teams, the basis for the penalty would disappear. He also pointed out that teams would still have at least 3 weeks to arrange any preliminary round match they were required to play, which was as long as the time between later rounds. I felt this was a reasonable deal. However, the main proponent of the SCCU proposal was not convinced. He felt that I was being somewhat naïve in not seeing this as all part of a dastardly plan by the Home Director to marginalise, and probably kill off, the Union Stage – something that we would strongly oppose as this Stage is well supported in our region. (To be fair to this view, the Home Director did propose a little while ago to extend the duration of the Final Stage by encroaching on the time available to complete a meaningful Union Stage, and we were pleased to see this didn’t proceed.) He also did not accept the argument about 3 weeks still being an adequate time to be expected to arrange a preliminary round match, and feared of this might also deter Unions from bidding for places. He points out that with the draw taking place earlier in the year, teams have a good chance to anticipate where they might be playing throughout all rounds of the Final Stage. If the SCCU proposal wins the day, all well and good. I can’t see a downside to that. My fear, though, is that either it will be timed out at the bottom of the agenda, or it will not gain Council support, and we end up with nothing. Consequently, given that the proposal is on the agenda, I propose that we support it.
Please let me have your views on how I should vote in your name, or come back to me with any questions you might have.