SCCU Executive Committee Meeting, ECF and BCF AGMs

    ‎26‎ ‎Sep at ‎21‎:‎44
    Dear All,
    This years AGM Council meetings of the ECF and BCF will take place in Birmingham on Saturday 13th October.  The SCCU Executive Committee is meeting this Friday evening (28th September) to determine it’s position with regard to the ECF and BCF meetings.  There will also be a brief SCCU SGM.
    Let’s start with the ECF AGM Council meeting.  The agenda has appeared on the ECF website ( see Council Papers ), but a number of supporting papers are still awaited.  However, from my position on the Board I can add a bit more flesh.
    There’s one big issue with the opening “house-keeping” matters.  This is the Minutes of April’s Finance Council meeting.  As yet, there are none!  For various reasons, including ill health, these have not been produced.  I have very recently been asked if I can cobble something together, which I’ll attempt to do, but it can’t be top of my list of priorities.
    Next, there are reports from the Board and the Chairmen of the Governance and Finance Committee’s.  That of the Chairman of Governance might be paraphrased as “steady as she goes” with no significant issues. The Board Report has been put together by the CEO, Mike Truran, to reflect activities over the past year and I don’t think should be controversial.  The Chairman of the Finance Committee, unlike his Governance counterpart, rarely takes up his standing invitation to attend Board meetings and I have had no insight into what he might report to Council.
    Attention then turns to elections.  Under the reforms introduced a couple of years ago, not all posts are up for election each year.  First up is President, with Dominic Lawson standing for re-election.  Dominic has taken very little part in Board matters, but is generally seen as ideal in this role, being a well-connected person with useful contacts and the ability to open doors occasionally.  I recommend that we support his re-election.
    Next up is CEO, with the incumbent, Mike Truran, standing for re-election.  Coming from a commercial background, Mike seems to get a bit frustrated at times with managing an essentially all-volunteer organisation and would like to see the ECF run much more as a commercial company.  However, he puts the effort in that is needed, is effective, and I have no reason not to continue to support him in this role.
    The Director Junior Chess, Traci Whitfield, has decided not to stand for re-election.  The only candidate to replace her is Alex Holowczak, who is standing down early as Director of Home Chess, as discussed later.  Whilst the Board has functioned in a largely collegiate way over the past 3 years, there has recently been one major area of disagreement involving Traci and another Director.  I have not been involved in this to any real extent, so am not best placed to argue right and wrong, but have sympathies for Traci’s position.  I think there’s a difference of personalities and objectives involved and that Traci has decided it’s not worth the aggravation.  I also understand that her decision to stand down was on the basis that she would be leaving the Junior Directorate in safe hands with Alex agreeing to stand in her stead.  I’m also confident in assurances I’ve had that Alex’s decisions to stand down as Home Director, then stand as Junior Director were separate and independent ones.  My recommendation is to support the election of Alex Holowczak in this position.
    Next we come to the Director of Women’s Chess.  I commented on this in my recent report in Sussex Chess News.  The Board had taken the decision to disestablish this position at director level after Sarah Longson stood down and no other candidate to replace her was found.  Subsequently Chris Fegan volunteered to take on the role and was appointed by the Board.  He is now standing for formal election by Council, for a period of 3 years – although he has indicated that if a suitable female candidate emerges he would consider giving way to her even before the 3 years is up.  Chris has been a bit of a controversial character in the past and there may well be some on Council who are minded to vote for “none of the above”.  I’m content that his appointment was appropriate, so am not minded to add to their numbers.
    Director of Home Chess is the only contested post this year, with 2 candidates to replace Alex Holowczak who is standing down early.  Alex is standing down because he has found that the tasks of Home Director peak during the summer months (e.g. the finals of the County Championships and the British Championships) and clash with other jobs he has – some of which, unlike being an ECF Director, help to pay the bills.  The two candidates to replace him are Tim Wall and Adrian Elwin.  I know little about either of them beyond what each has said in their election statements that are available on the ECF website.  I feel I’m sometimes seen by some ECF colleagues as a bit of a dinosaur!   Whilst fully respecting all the newer opportunities we now have for playing chess, I continue to support the traditional aspects such as club, league and County chess and don’t agree that these should just be allowed to wither away.  I am therefore pleased to see statements by Tim Wall advocating support for clubs and County chess.  If anyone knows more about the attributes of either candidate, please let me know, but at the moment I’m minded to support Tim Wall.
    [As an aside at this stage, there’s also a proposal for the ECF to employ a Development Officer.  A paper on this idea was brought to the Board recently, ostensibly by Malcolm Pein, but I understand Tim Wall was very much involved in its production.  (You may note that it is Malcolm Pein who has nominated Tim Wall for the post of Home Director.)  It’s full of positive ideas about trying to encourage greater participation in chess and might include a degree of payment by results if such a post is created.  It is intended to put the principle to Council at this meeting.  It has yet to appear on the website but it will come up under the Finance topic on the basis of it involving expenditure.  It is currently the Board’s intention to defer further consideration until Council support for the principle is determined.]
    Mike Gunn is standing unopposed for re-election as Chairman of Council.  I propose supporting him.
    Malcolm Pein is standing unopposed for re-election as FIDE Delegate.  Malcolm is also part of the Georgios Makropoulos “ticket” standing for election for a new President of FIDE.  If successful, Malcolm will become Deputy President of FIDE.  That election will be held on 3rd October, so will be known well before our Council meeting.  Some may query how compatible these dual roles will be if “Team Makro” is successful.  I have considered whether there might be seen to be a conflict of interest.  I’m not unduly worried.  It might be likened, albeit in a more significant way, to my remaining as your delegate to Council while also being on the ECF Board.  At times I have to make it clear in which capacity I am speaking, but haven’t found it too much of an issue.  However, in Malcolm’s case, I’m more concerned over whether he will still have time for all his chess roles if he adds FIDE Deputy President to them.  These include being the ECF Director of International Chess.  Consequently, while I have no reason to oppose Malcolm remaining the FIDE Delegate, I’m concerned that something might have to give if he also becomes a leading figure in FIDE itself.
    Finally there’s the unopposed re-elections of the Chairman of Governance and one member of the Finance Committee, and reappointment of the auditors.  All non-controversial in my view.
    Various awards will be announced, some of which may require Council approval.  Nothing controversial that I’m aware of.
    There are two very minor changes to the Articles of Association, as fully spelt out in the agenda.  These are deemed “special resolutions” requiring 75% majorities to pass.  Neither appears controversial.
    Yet again there will be an updated Strategy Statement presented to Council.  Essentially just a few changes to what has been seen before.
    There’s currently a placeholder on the agenda for “Finance”.  This is going to be more extensive than would normally be expected at the autumn Council meeting and is likely to be controversial.  The main arguments being put forward by the Board might be summarised as:
    • A number of the executive directors have good, valid objectives to do more to advance English chess, but can’t finance them so long as we continue to operate the ECF on a shoestring budget
    • There’s a need for increased office support and to keep salaries up to date.  Several years ago, when the government grant was withdrawn, the staffing level was significantly cut back.  The loss of John Philpott a couple of years ago was a substantial blow, given the level of unpaid tasks he undertook.  This has resulted in out-sourcing of some tasks and increased administration costs and workload on the office.
    I’m finding myself torn over these arguments.  On the one hand, I believe that annual membership fees, particularly at the basic Bronze level, are minimal compared to what most other activities cost, amounting to no more than a decent round of drinks in the pub.  Even at the enhanced levels of membership, they’re hardly a king’s ransom.  The ECF has also taken steps to keep down costs to juniors.  Conversely, a significant amount of the requests for further funding always seem to be going towards things like international chess which, although no doubt admirable in supporting England’s standing in the chess world, bring no tangible benefit to the vast majority of the membership.  A sort of Robin Hood in reverse of taking money from the lower echelons to support the upper echelons.  In total, the increased expenditure being sought, over and above that given in the budget that was approved by Council in April, amounts to nearly £45k a year.  Over half of this is proposed to come from within the ECF, with the balance being requested from The Chess Trust / Permanent Invested Funds.  The ECF contribution would need to come from a mix of increases to membership fees and eating into reserves. 
    The cost of employing the Development Officer referred to earlier would be intended to be covered out of the funds sought from The Chess Trust / PIF and the additional income accruing from any success in increasing membership.
    While I think the intentions are admirable, and reflect the fact that the Federation – like most of chess – survives on voluntary effort, I suspect some will feel this is just a request for higher fees with nothing coming back to the majority of members.  If I support the proposals in the name of Sussex chess will I be accused of going over to the dark side?  Please take the time to read the paper when it does appear on the website and take an objective view on whether or not the proposals reflect what the ECF should be doing.
    Other than routine agenda items, the BCF AGM will cover only financial matters.  These are the approval of accounts and deciding whether or not the Board should be authorised to transfer PIF No. 1 to The Chess Trust.  A key objective of such a transfer is to allow the BCF to become dormant, existing only in name and with a bank account, but negating the need for annual accounts, audits and tax returns.  There would also be tax advantages in the funds being held by The Chess Trust as it is a charity.  I’m content to agree with the proposals.
    Turning to the SCCU meetings this Friday, this would normally be just an Executive Committee one concerning mainly the positions the Union should take at the forthcoming ECF Council meeting.  However, this time the Executive Committee meeting will be preceded by a Special General Meeting of the Union Council to consider the adoption of a number of rule changes.  These changes affect both the General Rules and the County Match Rules.  The proposed changes to the General Rules are:
    • to permit charging a fee for raising an appeal against an SCCU decision
    • to make it clear that the Union reserves the right to recover any charges levied by the ECF for games submitted for grading and involving a non-ECF Member.
    Whether or not such fees would be charged or recovered would then be set out in the specific rules for a particular competition.
    The proposed changes to the County Match Rules stem in large measure from incidents last season that resulted in disputes and subsequent appeals being raised with Union, together with some minor clarifications.  These are:
    • Expansion of Rule 2 to emphasise the role of captains to try to resolve disputes on the day of a match and to set out those areas where captains might exercise the discretion of an arbiter under certain FIDE Laws.
    • Rule 5(c)(2) to permit the clearance of an ungraded player after a match has been played, provided the clearance was applied for prior to the match.  This is to address the situation of a late need to seek clearance for a player but the County Match Controller not being available to respond immediately.  There will remain a risk to the team involved that if the clearance is not subsequently granted they will be deemed to have fielded an ineligible player.
    • Rule 19 is expanded to set out the circumstances under which permission might be given for the use of a mobile ‘phone to be used during play.
    • Rule 20(a) is expanded for strict compliance with FIDE Guidelines for quick play finishes without an arbiter present.
    • Rule 22 is expanded to state that for County Matches the SCCU will seek to recover any game fee charges levied by the ECF in accordance with the General Rules change discussed above.
    • Rule 23 concerning disputes is expanded to introduce a requirement for disputes raised with the County Match Controller, and any subsequent appeal, to be set out on proforma that will be made available by the Union.  An initial dispute proforma will need to be signed by the team captain, whilst an appeal proforma will need to be signed by a County official.  These aspects are intended to reduce the risk of ill-considered disputes or appeals being submitted.  Finally within this rule will be included the relevant appeal fee in accordance with the proposed change to the General Rules.  If these rule changes are agreed, the specific fee will be determined at the following Executive Committee meeting and is expected to be set at £30.
    The reason for the apparent haste in calling an SGM to consider these rule changes is so that they might be brought in for the 2018 / 19 season.  I attach documents describing and setting out these proposed changes in detail.
    There are a few other matters on the Executive Committee meeting agenda, but I think they are ones on which I can use my discretion on the night and report back any significant outcomes.
    All views or comments on any aspect of any of these meetings are invited.