Dear All,

Hereby my feed back on all these recent meetings.

Taking these meetings in chronological order, the first was the short SGM of the SCCU to deal with proposed changes to the Union’s General and County Match Rules, as I set out in my earlier consultation email. The only change to the wording of the proposals that was made was to amend all references to “mobile phones” to read “mobile phones and other electronic devices”. However, the implementation date has been put back to the start of the 2019 / 20 season to avoid them coming in after the first County Match of this season had taken place. (This was scheduled for the day after the meeting, so deemed too soon to expect the teams to take them into account.)

Next up was the SCCU Executive Committee meeting that immediately followed the SGM. Anthony Fulton gave an update on his investigation into various ways forward with digitising the archive of SCCU Bulletins, with likely benefits and costs of different approaches. You may recall that Richard Haddrell left the Union £500 specifically for this purpose.

Following on from the resolutions passed at the SGM, the Executive agreed that when the new Rules come into effect the fee for making an appeal against a decision of the County Match Controller will be set at £30. There was discussion on the possible recouping of any Game Fee dues imposed by the ECF for juniors who are not ECF Members. Up till now the Union has covered these, but with the risk of the amounts now being rather higher this needed further consideration. However, it was decided to stay with the current arrangement at least for this season and see the effect. We would certainly encourage organisations involved to try to get their juniors to become ECF members, noting that they can have a free first year followed by a fee of £5 (likely to increase to £6) for subsequent years, in each case with the benefits of Silver Membership. (i.e. only those juniors playing in FIDE-rated events would need a higher level of membership.)

Hertfordshire nominated Alan Atkinson as their representative on the Rules and Appeals Sub-Committee and this was agreed.

Mark Murrell, who has also taken over as President and comes from a legal background, gave an update on safeguarding matters. Mark has put terrific effort into this and on GDPR, to an extent that I suspect would put many FTSE-100 companies to shame! The Union is highly indebted to him for this, although I fear he has set an impossibly high standard to be maintained come the day he passes on these tasks. I hope that with increasing experience and familiarity with these issues, streamlined procedures can be developed for the sort of organisations we’re all involved in.

Turning to the forthcoming ECF Council meeting, SCCU discussions focused on the contested election for Director of Home Chess and the Finance proposals which included further increases in Membership Fees. On both, views were divided and the Union’s votes would be split accordingly. On the financial proposal Paul Shepherd (Surrey and SCCU Secretary) was particularly hostile on the basis that they lacked key performance indicators by which the ECF could be held to account in future regarding the success or otherwise of their actions.

Finally with regard to this meeting, a date for your diaries please. This is Saturday 29th June 2019. This is the day on which the SCCU is intending to hold a club championship event with the aim of promoting the Union. David Gilbert of Kent is leading the effort on this. This will be a 6 rounds rapidplay (G25 + 5 seconds) event for teams of 4 players. There will be 3 levels of competition, based on average grade of team members (average grade limits of 120, 145 and 170). The intended venue is St Luke’s Church in Kidderpore Avenue, London NW3 7SU, and there should be room for 40 teams. Entry fee is proposed to be £40 per team, with a £10 reduction for early entries. There won’t be cash prizes, but trophies will be awarded.

Now I come to last Saturday’s ECF and BCF Council meetings, starting with that of the ECF. I shall just cover what I consider to have been significant points.

With the various housekeeping matters and Minutes of the last meeting disposed of, the meeting turned to Reports, the first being that of the Board. David Gilbert suggested that in future the items covered in the Board Report should link to specific points in the Strategy Statement. This was accepted by CEO Mike Truran. David Sedgwick took to his feet attired in a smart blue jacket emblazoned with the new ECF logo. He said he was wearing this for Council Members to see, but also to enquire why, as an arbiter at the recent Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia, he had had to pay £125 for it whilst they were provided for free to the English players. This gave Malcolm Pein (International Director) an opportunity to illustrate the financial constraints he has. He reported that there had been a request that players wore jackets indicating their team country, but his budget couldn’t cover this. This was overcome by a combination of crowd funding and personal donations, but this only stretched to providing for the players, Officials such as David Sedgwick who wished to have one were asked to pay. The Report was approved nem con.

The Report of the Chairman of the Governance Committee elicited no questions and was also approved nem con.

Tim Herring, Chairman of the Finance Committee, read his Report that had appeared too late on the ECF website for many to have seen it in advance. This lateness attracted criticism for preventing meaningful review by Council. Angus French sought reassurance that the Finance Committee had been provided with sufficient detail to assess the accuracy of the financial summaries provided to Council, and that any overspends had been properly approved. Tim Herring was confident sufficient information had been provided for his purposes. The Report was approved by an overwhelming majority (hand vote), but with 3 votes against.

Next on the agenda was elections, although taken later, out of sequence, due to the arrival of one candidate in the only contested election being delayed by mechanical problems en-route. All elections were conducted as card votes. All those standing in uncontested elections were elected by overwhelming majorities. In seeking re-election as FIDE Delegate, Malcolm Pein provided feedback on the recent FIDE Congress and the Presidential election in which he had stood on the unsuccessful ticket of Georgios Makropoulos as prospective Deputy President. Malcolm believed they had lost out to Arkady Dvorkovich of Russia who had benefited from the corrupt buying of votes and essentially unlimited funds, citing as an example the hiring of a restaurant across the road from the congress venue with food and drink provided for free throughout the congress and a party being thrown the night before the vote, featuring mermaids floating in a water tank! Nick Faulks, who followers of the English Chess Forum will appreciate has expressed contrarian views throughout the campaign, stated that his recollection of the congress was diametrically opposed to that presented by Malcolm, with the focal point of corrupt practices having lain in the Makropoulos camp. Your scribe is insufficiently knowledgeable on FIDE matters to express a meaningful view either way.

In the contested election for Director of Home Chess, Adrian Elwin narrowly beat Tim Wall, with 146 votes to 134 and 5 votes cast for “neither of these candidates”. I think in keeping with many Council Members, I knew little of either candidate, came to the meeting somewhat undecided and ended up splitting the votes I held as 4 for Adrian Elwin and 3 for Tim Wall.

Also covered under elections was that of Auditors, with Goatcher Chandler being reappointed, with 1 vote against. Roger Emerson had pointed out that Goatcher Chandler had been the ECF Auditors for many years and the lack of change was seen as contrary to good practice.

Council was advised of the 4 awards made this year by the British Chess Educational Trust (BCET), one of which was to a school (Goldstone Primary) in Sussex. The report from BCET noted “that the Trust’s assets are being transferred to The Chess Trust and the Trustees will in future act as a committee reporting to The Chess Trust but continuing with the objectives of the BCET Trust deed”.

Dave Thomas (Director of Membership) advised Council that Dr Stephen Greep had been nominated to receive a President’s Award for Services to Chess. This was in recognition of his contribution to local chess activities in general, and his contribution to this year’s British Championships in Hull in particular.

The minor changes that were proposed to the Articles of Association were rapidly disposed of. That involving the definition of “Requisitionists” was approved nem con on a hand vote, whilst that concerning the deadline for submission of proxies for Council meetings attracted just one vote against.

Mike Truran (CEO) presented the latest update to the Strategy Statement. This attracted the usual criticism by Angus French as not being a statement of strategy. John Reyes queried the financial objective of maintaining reserves over a 5-year planning cycle at £100k. David Eustace (Director of Finance) responded that this was considered a prudent level, representing about half the ECF’s annual expenditure. David Gilbert considered that the Statement should include relevant KPIs. The Statement was approved by a majority on a hand vote, but with 5 votes against.

Extensive discussion on financial matters is not normally a feature of the October Council Meeting which constitutes the ECF’s AGM, but should be covered by the Finance Council Meeting held in April each year. However, the Board had decided that this year they should seek an increase in current year expenditure above that approved in the annual budget last April, and to gauge Council’s willingness to see Membership Fees rise more in future years than had previously been proposed. Discussion became quite heated at times. The Board’s position was summarised as being that the current level of expenditure was sufficient to “manage decline” as the demographic time bomb of older players departing the scene without being replaced by sufficient numbers of younger players took hold. The Board considered that the increases in expenditure now being proposed for International, Women’s Chess, initiatives to increase membership and for office costs were needed to try to avert such decline. Malcolm Pein was, characteristically, forceful in making the case. He suggested all should be proud of the fact that England had finished in fifth place in the recent Olympiad, our best result for many years, and that we should continue to seek to field the strongest teams possible. With sponsorship always being difficult to find, although he’d had some success, he needed the extra financial support that was now being sought.

Chris Fegan had been appointed to the Board as Director of Women’s Chess just a few weeks ago and given a budget of just £5k, although the Board agreed to increase this to £8k to cover increased expenditure at the 2018 British Championships. He was now seeking an increase to £15k a year. He believed that the limited increase had already borne fruit, citing this year’s English Women’s Championship which had attracted 30 entries, against just 11 last year. (Personal disclosure: I was one of the extra 19, not entering with any prospect of coming home with any prize money, but just trying to give my support to women’s events.) Somewhat embarrassingly to me, he also pointed out that the participation of women in chess was reflected by there being just one woman in the room.

One point raised from the floor, with which I’m sure many have sympathy, is that with expenditure on international players there was no return to the membership as a whole. Malcolm Pein argued this was not so, quoting several examples of leading players participating in local events or contributing in other ways such as giving free coaching to juniors. (Outside of the meeting I suggested to Malcolm that such examples should be given greater publicity as it would help Council Members such as myself in trying to put the case to those I represent. Malcolm agreed that this should be done.)

It was noted that it is a requirement in the Articles that Membership Fees be set by the April Finance Council meeting each year. Consequently, nothing regarding future Membership Fees decided by this meeting could be binding on Council next April. Indeed, there was a fairly widespread view amongst Council Members that that part of the proposals dealing with future Membership Fees should be deleted from what was being put to this meeting. An amendment to this effect was put to the meeting. On a hand vote the proposed amendment was defeated by 24 votes against to 19 in favour. A card vote was then held, but was also lost by 165 votes against and 123 in favour. I voted against in each case.

One Council Member sought to put a proposal that International expenditure be capped at a certain figure for future years. The Chairman of Council refused this request on the basis of it being a substantive proposal that would need to be raised formally on the agenda of a future meeting. A point that Malcolm Pein made was that it was increasingly difficult to earn a living as a professional player. He stated that typical prize funds today were less, even in absolute terms, than they had been 20 years ago.

The proposals presented in the Paper “Challenges for English Chess and the ECF” involving an increase in current year expenditure, future Membership Fees (but noting these could not be binding on future Finance Council meetings) and requests to the Chess Trust for funding were finally put to a vote. On a hand vote the proposals were passed by 27 votes to 13. Although this seemed a convincing result, there was a call for a card vote by Council Members representing sufficient organisations for this to be granted by the Chairman. However, the proposals were again passed by 160 votes against 103, with 1 abstention. I voted in favour in each case.

David Eustace (Director of Finance) reported to Council on activities at the Chess Trust, of which he, along with CEO Mike Truran, are ex-officio ECF-nominated Trustees. Related to this, it was proposed that Dr Stephen Greep become a third ECF-nominated Trustee of the Chess Trust. This was approved nem con by Council.

Council were asked to note a decision of the Board that the Yearbook be discontinued in its current form. In future, it would consist solely of a record of events over the past year, whilst the directory of contacts in chess organisations throughout the country would be provided online, where it could be maintained much more up to date. David Sedgwick spoke against this. He considered that it was useful to be able to look back through past Yearbooks to see who had been in posts over the years. Whilst hardcopy versions could be retained, he doubted that online information would be archived adequately. I suggested that whilst it was reasonable to expect the ECF to maintain an archive of its own officers, they shouldn’t really be expected to be the primary archivists for other organisations. In a hand vote the decision of the Board was noted by a clear majority, with 6 against. I voted in favour.

Council meetings next year will be 27th April in Birmingham (Finance) and 12th October in London (AGM).

The BCF Council meeting was held during a mid-session break in the ECF Council meeting. Substantive business consisted of approving the annual accounts for 2016 / 17, and considering the transfer of the assets of the Permanent Invested Fund 1 (PIF1) to the Chess Trust on terms consistent with the relevant original trust deeds. On the first matter David Eustace reminded Council that in April this year they had approved the 2016 / 17 accounts subject to audit. They had now been audited without change. Council approval was given. On the second matter Council passed nem con to give the Directors the authority to transfer the PIF1 assets to the Chess Trust.

That’s my lot, but if you have any questions, please get in touch.