ECF Finance Council

Dear All,

The annual ECF Finance CouncilECF Finance CouncilECF Finance Council, and associated BCF Council, meetings will take place on Saturday 22nd April in Birmingham.  I invite your comments on any of the agenda items.

The ECF Finance Council Agenda is somewhat limited, but nonetheless meaty, consisting of just 3 substantive items.  These are a proposal to abolish Game Fee, the budget for 2017 / 18 and possible voting reform.  The first two are, to some extent, inter-related.

Taking each in turn:-

1.  Abolition of Game Fee (  and  ).
When the Membership Scheme was introduced a few years ago a Game Fee fall back option was retained.  It was said that this was intended to be a temporary situation whilst we all got used to the Membership option, and the fee was set at a level that was intended to act as an incentive for most people to become Members.  Currently, the Game Fee is set at £2.50 per adult standard game or £1.25 per adult rapid game.  Corresponding amounts of 60p and 30p apply in exclusively junior events.  There have been 2 main criticisms of this system.  From the ECF’s standpoint, it is labour intensive to identify and collect what are often quite trivial amounts.  From a club’s standpoint, even at the relatively low value of £2.50, it has been seen as a disincentive for newcomers to get a taste of competitive chess playing.  The gist of the new proposal is to allow someone to play up to 3 games in any League or internal club competition without being an ECF Member, or facing a Game Fee, but then to hit any League / club in which they play 4 or more games with the rather heftier fee of £25 (adult) or £12 (junior) for each player playing 4 or more games without becoming a Member.  (This would be applied separately for each League / club, so if someone played in more that one League / club, they could play up to 3 times in each without incurring a charge.)  So, still a carrot and stick approach, but I think it would be a beneficial change in minimising workload for the ECF and giving some freedom for new or occasional players to play a few competitive games without immediately being hit by an ECF charge – albeit a rather big hit after 3 games for any still averse to carrots.  It is expected that the new charging system would be fiscally neutral compared to the current system.  So-called “Pay-to-Play” fees in a congress where someone lacked the appropriate level of ECF Membership would still apply.  The concept of “Deemed Game Fee” will continue to exist to determine Council voting rights – pending any changes from the voting reform proposals.

2.  Budget for 2017 / 18  (  and  )
A lot of work has been going on behind the scenes to recover from the loss of John Philpott on the eve of last autumn’s AGM.  The bookkeeping function has been outsourced and the accounts are being computerised.  This is still a work-in-progress, but amongst the benefits it should facilitate the regular production of management accounts – the lack of which has been something that the ECF has reasonably been criticised for up till now.

At last year’s Finance Council, increases in Membership Fees were rejected.  However, at last October’s AGM, Council indicated support for a forward plan that included increases for 2017 / 18 and again in 2019 / 20.  This was not a binding vote by Council, but if Council was now to overturn the 2017 / 18 increases that the Finance Director has included in his proposed budget, it would indicate just how difficult it would be for any forward planning.  The proposed increases (for adults, with new rates in parentheses) are Bronze £1 (£16), Silver £1.50 (£23.50) Gold £2 (£34) and Platinum £10 (£70). 

A criticism that was raised by Council at the last AGM was that it wasn’t sufficiently clear what was intended to be covered by current income from Membership / Game Fees and what needed to be funded by sponsorship / donations, reserves or drawdown of capital from the Permanent Invested Funds (PIF) or John Robinson Youth Trust (JRYT).  The data at the foot of the Summary tab in the budget spreadsheet is intended to address this.

The ECF has had some success over the last couple of years in attracting sponsorship money, but as things stand today the proposed expenditure does anticipate a need for some capital drawdown.  As the FD indicates in his Paper, the PIF Trustees have been reasonably receptive to such a request but, so far, the JRYT Trustees have declined to shift from their current practice of only distributing income from the funds entrusted to them.  My fellow non-exec director, who is a qualified lawyer, has reviewed John Robinson’s will and indicated that it did not contain any such restriction on use of capital, so a renewed approach to the JRYT Trustees is intended, but if still unsuccessful the financial plans will need further review.

If the proposal to abolish Game Fees in their current form, as discussed above, is rejected by Council, it is intended that there will be a proposal to increase Game Fees in line with the proposed increases in Membership Fees.

3.  Voting Reform  (  and  )
I consulted with you previously on these proposals that have come jointly from the Board (but with severe reservations from me) and the Governance Committee.  As a result of the ECF’s consultation, no substantive changes have been made to the Paper being put to Council.  The second document referenced above is a summary of the responses the ECF received to the initial consultation, compiled by the Chairman of Governance.  It records there were only 25 respondents, and I understand many of those simply indicated a preference for one of the proposed options but with no discussion.  The Paper has the response I coordinated on behalf of the SCCU annexed to it.  This limited response in no way surprises me, but reinforces my view that whilst giving greater weight to direct voting by Members sounds wonderfully democratic, it could only expect to attract very limited participation and not be likely to reflect the views (if any!) of the Membership at large.    I anticipate that this is one item on which I will wish to address Council as a Council Member rather than as a Director!

The BCF Council agenda contains just one substantive item at present.  This is a proposal that Council endorses the request to the JRYT Trustees to release capital to support junior chess activities.

Your comments are invited on any of these matters.  The SCCU Executive Committee will be meeting this Friday (7th April) to determine its voting intentions for the Council meetings.