The ECF Board has issued a Consultation Paper on possible voting reform to replace, or significantly amend, the existing Council. The paper is available here
. If you haven’t already done so, I request that you read the paper with a view to the SCCU making a consolidated response, possibly coordinated with the other Unions.
The objective is to put this Paper, possibly amended in response to the current consultation exercise, to the Finance Council in April. If any of the proposals gains sufficient Council support, a fully detailed proposal would be developed to put to the AGM in October this year. As amendments to the ECF’s Articles of Association would be required to implement any of the proposals, any vote at the AGM would need at least 75% in favour in order to be adopted.
Section 12 of the Paper refers to one member of the Board expressing a minority view over the desirability of such reforms. I put my hand up to being that Board member. In this email I shall attempt to set out reasonably briefly my concerns and seek your views on whether you think they have validity or are misplaced.
The background to this Paper can be traced back to a Council vote that led to the setting up of the Independent Constitutional and Governance Review, which reported its findings (the “Pearce Report”) ahead of the 2015 ECF AGM. The Review considered the question of representation of Direct Members in the light of some suggestions that Council be replaced by a system of “one member, one vote” (OMOV), but came down against such a change. In particular, I highlight the following paragraph from their Report:
“The current tiered structure enables would-be administrators to gain experience at local, county, congress and possibly Union level before taking national roles within the ECF, and we note that many current and past ECF Directors and Officers have done so. We think that any change to OMOV would involve the ECF in considerable expense with little benefit and possibly considerable detriment, since it would break the linkage between the ECF and the local clubs, Chess Leagues and Chess Congresses which are the lifeblood of chess in this country. Accordingly, we recommend that the ECF should not replace Council by OMOV in any form.”
Whilst I wouldn’t suggest the way Council operates is entirely above reproach, I find myself in a high degree of agreement with this finding of the Review.
Despite this pretty unequivocal finding of the Pearce Review, the question of possible reforms has continued to be raised in recent Council meetings. The ECF Governance Committee has taken up the question and provided advice to the Board, with this Consultation Paper being the outcome. It suggests a number of possible proposals that could be put to Council that go beyond just a simple full replacement of Council by OMOV.
The fundamental driver behind these proposals is summed up in the very first “Key Point” at the start of the Paper:
“The Directors acknowledge the concern that the existing constitutional arrangements do not adequately reflect the interests of Direct Members”
More accurately, this should read “the majority of the Directors”, for this is where I already start to part company from the proposals.
In the background is also a fundamental question over the nature of the ECF; is it a federation, a members’ organisation or some hybrid of the two?
It would be easy to misrepresent my views as being anti-democratic and against the views of the membership being honestly and accurately represented. I don’t doubt that some in the wider chess community, including some of the more vocal forum contributors, would attempt to do so. Nothing could be further from the truth. My concern is that I’m not convinced that any of the proposals would result in better or more democratic representation of the membership than the present Council set up. This is in the context of my experience indicating that the vast majority of members simply aren’t interested in ECF matters beyond paying, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, their annual membership fee. I strongly fear that any method involving direct voting by individual members would achieve only a very limited response and thus be vulnerable to being usurped by minority interests and agendas.
It has never occurred to me over the 5 years that I’ve served on Council that I was there to represent any organisation as some form of corporate entity, rather than as a local community of chess playing members. It is certainly incumbent upon us, as Council Members, to do our best to ascertain and reflect the views of those members we represent. No doubt some take this more seriously than others, but I fail to believe that large scale replacement of Council Members reasonably elected or appointed by the various organisations, by directly elected Council Members (either wholly under Option 2 or partially under Option 3) without clear cut constituencies, would achieve a better or more democratic outcome.
Reflecting the view expressed by Pearce, I fear that breaking the links with the Unions, County Associations, Leagues and Clubs, and the many volunteers within them, that have been the bedrock of English chess for a century or more, is something we do at our peril. At a recent Board meeting I summarised this concern as risking throwing out the baby with the bathwater. This earned me the retort “what baby?!”, adding to my concern that at least some of my fellow Directors have come to see the likes of the Unions and County Associations as irrelevant, and probably annoyingly irrelevant.
I could go on to make a range of detailed comments against each of the proposals, but I’d rather leave it at this point for you to consider how, or even whether, the SCCU should respond. Do you see this matter as being of sufficient significance that we should hold a dedicated Executive Committee meeting to discuss it? Time is of the essence. The ECF consultation ends on 12th March. A date of Friday the 3rd of March has been suggested to me as a possibility for such a meeting, but even that would be too late to try to coordinate views with the other Unions. I’m sorry I couldn’t share this with you sooner, but until the Paper was published I felt constrained to respect Board confidentiality.