ECF Finance Council.

  • Dear All,
    It’s that time of year again when the ECF has a 6-monthly Council meeting, this being the annual Finance Council.  The BCF will have a brief council meeting embedded within it.  These meetings will be in London on Saturday 28th April.  The SCCU Executive Committee will meet this Friday, 20th April, to consider the ECF / BCF agenda and other matters.  I shall be attending each of these meetings in various capacities, including as your delegate and welcome guidance on how you would wish me to vote.
    ECF Finance Council.
    The agenda and various papers can be found on the ECF website, under Council Papers ( ).
    For those of you dismayed at the prospect of fighting your way through one of my missives, here’s a summary of my current voting inclinations on each substantive agenda item:
    Budget and membership fees:  For
    Governance matters:  For
    County Championship changes:  Unclear.  Please do review this one and advise me.
    Merge Bronze and Silver Membership levels at fee of £20:  Against
    Casual Chess Café grant:  Against.
    For those of you with greater stamina:-
    After dispensing with various housekeeping matters and Minutes of last October’s AGM, the meeting will address the main financial matters.  These are summarised in a report from the Finance Director and associated accounts and budget.
    A backlog in various accounting matters following the death of John Philpott has now largely been cleared.
    The draft accounts for the year ended 31st August 2017 show a deficit of approximately £5k.  However, this is around £14k better than had been budgeted.  This has been attributed to two main factors; firstly a carry forward of £9k of income from the previous year and secondly greater emphasis on collecting Game Fee dues.  The forecast outturn for the current year is a loss of some £12k, being an improvement on the £19k deficit that had been forecast in the budget for the year.  However, note that this includes a presumption that the £5k contingency in the budget continues to go unspent.  Going forward to 2018 / 19 the picture is rather less rosy, with the budget showing a deficit for the year of over £25k.  All three “spending” directorates (Home, Junior and International) are contributing to this increased deficit, along with some anticipated increase in administration costs.  It is being proposed that this deficit be met from reserves rather than increased member fees, but with the intention of restoring reserves to around £100k in the longer term.
    On the Membership front a number of things are going on.  The current year is seeing an increase in membership numbers and the Board agreed to budget on the assumption of an ongoing 5% increase per year for the next 3 years.  In part, this might be achieved through a “Yorkshire effect”.  Yorkshire has traditionally run its own grading system, thereby negating the incentive for players becoming Members of the ECF.  This system may not continue and might persuade Yorkshire based leagues and clubs to seek ECF grading, thus encouraging their players to take out ECF membership.  Conversely, there are proposals to reduce costs for juniors, as discussed below.  On the face of it, adult membership, pay-to-play and non-member penalty fees are all proposed to remain unchanged for next year.  However, along with a change in the contract to run the membership payment scheme, it is being proposed that the £1 discount for online applications / renewals be dropped.
    On Junior fees, a number of changes are being proposed.  I’d like to claim at least some credit for this.  Although ECF membership fees can hardly be seen as high, I had received inputs that junior events were often dissuaded from submitting results for grading by the cost to their members.  I tried floating the idea at the Board of offering free junior membership below Gold level (only required for playing in FIDE-rated events).  I suggested this might be done as a “loss leader” by the ECF in the hope that once more juniors got used to being members and getting a grade, more might be encouraged to stay on as paying members as they got older.  Alternatively, I wondered whether we might test the water at Council in accepting appropriate (and hardly enormous) increases in adult fees to cover the loss of income from junior fees.  This wasn’t quite what emerged from the Board discussion, but what is being proposed is that in addition to continuing with the current system of offering a first year’s free Silver Junior Membership, on-going Junior Membership Fee below Gold will be reduced to £5.
    An (unintended?) consequence of other changes at the last Finance Council was that the pay-to-play fee in Junior congresses had increased significantly to £3.75.  The Board subsequently decided to reduce this retrospectively to £2, and this remains the proposed fee for 2018 / 19.  Whilst content with this change, it left me concerned that the £9.50 game / penalty fee for juniors playing 4 or more games (8 or more rapidplay games) in leagues or similar events seemed anomalous.  I didn’t get anywhere on this one for the current year, the view being that the combination of encouraging juniors to take up the offer of one year’s free membership followed by the proposed £5 membership fee was sufficient for the £9.50 figure not to be a real problem.  However, it is now being proposed that this fee also be reduced to £5 for the coming year.
    I’m proposing that I support the proposed budget, although there’s an element of hope that the anticipated increase in membership will materialise and that the “spenders” don’t lose control of their budgets.
    There are various changes being proposed on maintaining the Voting Register.  It is being proposed that instead of the Voting Register being updated just prior to each Council meeting, it will in future be updated just once a year based on grading results submitted in the 12 months period up till the end of June.  Clarification is proposed on the procedure for an organisation that is not itself a member of the ECF to assign its voting rights to another organisation.  Those of you who are club representatives will recall me encouraging you to assign your grading results for this purpose to the Sussex CCA so that they could be used.  Thank you for taking up my request, which I think a few others around the country are now copying, and which I think has prompted this particular proposal.  These changes impact on the Articles of Association, so constitute a Special Resolution that requires a 75% majority vote at Council.  I don’t see them as controversial, so propose that I support them.
    Council will also be asked to note (their approval is not required) amendments to Regulation No. 2 (Directors and Officers Responsibilities).  These concern the deletion of references to the Director Of Women’s Chess following the resignation of Sarah Hegarty shortly after last autumn’s AGM.  It was not a case of the Board wishing to see this post disappear, but there had always been issues over defining just what the role should entail.  Should it be a true executive role in its own right or someone to advise and support the other executive directors?  There might be another volunteer to take on the role, but nothing has been decided yet.
    County Championships.
    You should be aware of consultations undertaken over the past few months by the Director of Home Chess on possible changes to the format and rules for the County Championships.  Not all the ideas floated in those consultations have made it through to formal proposals now being put to Council, but a number have.  The SCCU is one of only 2 Unions (the other being the MCCU) that is deemed to have a reasonably well supported union stage to this competition and these ideas and proposals have been seen largely as controversial by the SCCU.  Please do read the Paper on this subject as there are points on which I’d really welcome guidance on how Sussex votes should be used.  (Note that the ECF can only prescribe what happens in the Final (National) Stage of the Championships.  It would be up to the various Unions to decide whether or not to mimic any changes in their Union Stages.)
    The first proposal being put to Council is that the U180, U160 and U140 competitions be reduced from 16 boards to 12, in line with the U120 and U100 competitions.  The Open and Minor (if it continues – see below) would remain at 16 boards.  I know that our team captains can struggle to get full teams together and that Sussex hasn’t had the best of records over recent seasons with regard to board defaults.  Conversely, I believe many of the supporters of these competitions welcome the multi-board format.  Please give me some steer on this one.
    The next proposal is to drop the Minor Counties competition.  This, of course, is something that only exists at the national level, but does give additional teams the opportunity to participate beyond the regional level.  Once again, your views please.
    Finally, it is proposed that starting in 2019 the Final Stage of the U180 competition, and the Minor if it survives, join the Open competition in being FIDE-rated.  It was not many Council meetings ago that the Director of Home Chess made a proposal to FIDE-rate the Open and Minor competitions.  An amendment from the floor limited the proposal to just the Open, which Council then passed.  It might, therefore, be argued that the Director is attempting to resurrect and extend a proposal that has quite recently been rejected by Council.  He has countered to me that the amendment to his previous proposal was on a hand vote, late in the meeting so that there was insufficient time to test it with a card vote.  Accordingly, he doesn’t accept the amendment was necessarily robust.  There are arguments both ways.  The ECF would be keen to see more English events being FIDE-rated.  Some believe that many higher-graded players don’t participate at present because the competitions are not FIDE-rated.  Others believe that FIDE-rating, with the need to be Gold Members of the ECF, will dissuade a number of current players.  It’s important that I get a steer from our players at these levels as to how they feel.  Will recipients of this email please seek views on this from their stronger players, both those who currently participate in the County Championships and those who don’t.
    In addition, the consultation suggested that the ECF compile a list of venues and contacts that teams could use during the Final Stage.  Their use would be voluntary and could certainly be a help for captains struggling to find an out-of-region venue.  The Director does not believe a Council vote on this is necessary and has undertaken to start compiling such a list.
    Ideas in the consultation that didn’t survive were the mandatory inclusion of female and junior players in teams and the introduction of direct entry into the Final Stage, bypassing any Union competitions.  This latter point would have been very strongly resisted by the SCCU as it was feared it would have marginalised our Union competitions and lead to their progressive demise, with an overall reduction in the amount of chess played.
    The underlying concern of the ECF is that there is a gradual decline in these competitions and that if nothing is done they will go the same way as some other once flourishing competitions such as the National Clubs.  I don’t doubt the genuine wish of the Director of Home Chess to avert this.  He favours trying something rather than standing idly by and just watching such decline but I am concerned there is little evidence to suggest his ideas would have his desired effect.
    Proposal to Merge Bronze and Silver Membership Levels.
    This proposal is sponsored by Bill O’Rourke on behalf of the NCCU.  The financial analysis attached to this proposal includes juniors at a reduced rate, but the primary emphasis is on adults.  Also, if the Board’s proposal for £5 Junior Membership below Gold is passed, this NCCU proposal would only impact adult members.  The bottom line is a proposed “Standard Member” fee, giving the privileges of the current Silver Membership, that would cost £20, compared to the current (and proposed for 2018 / 19) figures of £16 for Bronze Membership and £23.50 for Silver.  This cost is calculated to be cost neutral to the ECF and offer benefits of simplification for the ECF and members who would otherwise need to upgrade their membership from Bronze, or pay a £7.50 pay-to-play fee, to enter an ECF-graded congress.  The benefit to congresses would be to lower the cost of entry and broaden their appeal to more players.  It has been suggested to Bill O’Rouke that he should declare a personal interest as a congress organiser, but he has countered that he is equally involved in league chess, so has a foot in each camp.
    The proposal would no doubt provide the claimed benefits of simplification for the ECF and those Bronze Members who decided they did want to enter a congress.  However, I’m not anticipating strong support from those 40% of ECF Members who are at the Bronze level and the majority of whom probably have no wish to play in congresses.  They are likely to see the 25% hike in their ECF Membership fee being a subsidy to those players who do play more widely, with no benefit to themselves.  Also, putting this into context, I’d query whether the additional £7.50 cost of Silver Membership really is a serious disincentive to anyone considering entering the world of chess congresses.  For a congress on one’s doorstep, the overall costs would not be a great deal (although the entry fee alone is likely to be substantially more than £7.50).  However, where travel and accommodation are involved, the overall costs start to become significant.  For example, with everything added up, a 2-day congress I entered recently ended up costing me about £300.
    I’m not inclined to support this proposal, principally out of concern for our Bronze members, but please send me your views.
    Request for Funding for the Casual Chess Café.
    This request has come from Amanda Ross and has been put on the agenda with the agreement of Mike Gunn, the Chairman of Council.  You may recall a couple of years ago there was an ambition to set up a “Mind Sports Centre” in London, to be funded jointly by the British Go Association (who had been bequeathed funds for this purpose) and the ECF.  Amanda Ross was a key proponent of this.  The ECF agreed to share the costs of feasibility studies, but could not agree that the ambition of Amanda Ross and the BGA to buy a suitable venue in central London was realistic.  Amanda refers back to this in her paper but, in my view, is a little mischievous to suggest that this was down to “a small kernel of opposition within the ECF, despite membership approval of the idea”.  I’m quite clear from my memory and notes at the time that Council only ever agreed to funding of the feasibility study.   Anyway, turning to the current paper, it contains a request for an annual grant of £6,000 from the ECF, starting this May (i.e. the initial grant would come from the current year’s ECF budget).  No doubt the Casual Chess Café has good intentions and is welcomed by those who visit, but it is less clear why the ECF should make such a grant in this case compared to any other chess club or group throughout the country.  The paper mentions approximately 5,000 unique visits per year.  This is believed to refer to Facebook visits, not physical visits by individuals to a Casual Chess evening.
    I’m not inclined to support this request.

    BCF Council Meeting.
    There is one substantive item on the agenda for the BCF Council meeting.  This concerns the possible transfer of money from the Permanent Invested Fund (PIF).  However, no paper giving the detail has yet appeared and I believe there’s a strong chance that this will be deferred till October to allow for more consideration by the Board.
    SCCU Executive Committee Meeting.
    This will largely be taken up with Officers’ reports and consideration of the ECF Council meeting agenda (so any prompt guidance on how you think Sussex should try to influence the SCCU position is very welcome), but also includes a few other points.  One of these is the dreaded GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) that come into effect towards the end of May.  I circulated the recently published ECF guidance for leagues an clubs to many of you a few days ago.  I must emphasise that this is something any organisation that collects data from customers / clients / members or whoever must take seriously, although there still seems to be a great deal of confusion over just what is needed.  I’ll try to circulate anything else that seems useful that comes my way.
    Another item that’s been put on our agenda is consideration of what might encourage greater county participation in SCCU.  In part, this has been inspired by the ECF consultation and proposals related to the County Championships.  Even though we appear to be one of the better Unions in that regard, we shouldn’t be complacent and recognise that not all Counties in our catchment area are affiliated, and those that are don’t necessarily field teams at every level.  Any bright ideas that anyone has are very welcome.
    Any other questions on these meetings are welcome.