This is a personal account of 14 April 2012, the day of the ECF Finance Council meeting. The views expressed are my own.
The story so far: Weary delegates are enjoying a well-deserved tea break at the half way point in the meeting.
FINANCE COUNCIL, PART 2
4.20 p.m. The meeting resumes with item 9, a motion proposed by Sean Hewitt to move responsibility for international rating from Home Chess to International Chess. Despite the momentary absence of the proposer, the motion is overwhelmingly approved on a hand vote.
4.22 p.m. Council is invited to approve the Business Plan for 2012/13. This is approved with none against after the usual extensive discussion.
4.24 p.m. Next item – the report of the Finance Director, including the forecast for the 2011/12 financial year just concluding. There is a motion to insert item 21 - the consultation paper on a junior membership scheme – at this point, i.e. to discuss it before getting into the meat of the 2012/13 budget. There is insufficient support for this request. Slightly alarmed by the reason for opposing the suggestion given by one delegate, “If I had known that one of the consultation papers was going to be discussed as a concrete proposal, I would have read them,” but I understand what he means. The Director of Finance’s report is duly noted.
4.44 p.m. Finally into the meat of the Finance meeting. Item 12 is the proposal for Membership Fees from 1 September 2012. These are as presented to Council at the last AGM. A proposal from the floor to increase the recommended subscription rates for Bronze, Silver and Gold by £2 is defeated on a hand vote 11-21. A further proposal to remove the £1 discount for online payment is also defeated.
A proposal to increase the proposed 3-year rates so that they are simply three times the annual rate (i.e. no discount, but protection against price rises) was approved 22-8.
As amended by the above, the proposed membership fees were approved 28-3.
5.15 p.m. An hour and a quarter left, and the halfway point has been reached on the agenda, numerically if not necessarily in terms of substance. Not good.
Item 13 – the proposal to keep the minimum Membership Fee for Member Organisations at £58 – is quickly approved. Under the new arrangements, this will apply to very few organisations anyway.
5.17 p.m. Here’s where it became complicated. This was the proposal for the Game Fee rates to apply from 1 September 2012. Many different amendments were proposed from the floor. The final outcome was as follows:
Paragraph 4.6 of the Game Fee Bye Laws were amended in October 2011 to state:
“The payment of Game Fee is hereby waived …. with effect from 1st September 2012 in respect of games played by Direct Members in competitions organised by the Federation (including the British Championships, the National Club Championships and the National Stages of the Counties Championship) and competitions registered pursuant to 4.3 hereof (i.e. competitions run by Chess Leagues Congresses and Clubs which are registered by 31st October).”
So Game Fees will only be payable in respect of games (or half games) played by non Members:
The Board proposes the following level of Game Fee for results as from 1 September 2012: the alignment of all rates for standard graded games at £2 and for rapidplay graded games at £1 is consistent with the relative voting entitlements under Article 30 that will apply from 1 September 2012.
(a) Standard graded games – £2;
(b) Rapidplay graded games – £1;
(c) Standard graded games submitted by clubs (for internal club competitions) – £2;
(d) Rapidplay graded games submitted by clubs (for internal club competitions) – £1:
(1) for Congresses the respective rates shall be reduced to a total fee per event of £6 per adult player and £4 per junior player irrespective of the number of games played and where a Bronze Member takes part in a Congress such fee shall be effective to upgrade his or her membership for the year in question to a Silver Membership.
Rates for junior events
(e) Standard graded games played between junior players under the age of 18 in solely junior events – 50p;
(f) Rapidplay graded games played between junior players under the age of 18 in solely junior events – 25p:
(g) Standard graded games submitted by clubs (for internal club competitions played between junior players under the age of 18 in solely junior events) – 50p:
(h) Rapidplay graded games submitted by clubs (for internal club competitions played between junior players under the age of 18 in solely junior events) – 25p:
where each graded game will comprise two results and Game Fee shall be payable for each result (all of which terms are defined in the Game Fee Bye Laws).
What’s the significance of this amended version? The answer is not straightforward and not necessarily predictable. This is my take on it:
(1) Removal of complexity. In process terms, the removal of the different rates depending on the achievement of an 85% threshold of membership makes things clearer and easier.
(2) Addition of new complexity. There are now different ‘pay to play’ fees (in non-junior only events) depending on whether the player is an adult or a junior. Also, the proposed simplified game fee structure has been “de-simplified” again.
(3) Increased risk of discouraging new/ungraded players. With the passing of the 85% threshold also went the clause relating to such players not being counted as non-members for the purposes of the threshold if they had not played more than three games.
(4) Increase in the cross-subsidy of junior chess activity by adult players. The game fee rates applicable to junior events are a quarter of the rates applicable to non-junior events. This is a bigger difference than now; currently, Game Fee for junior is half the comparable rate for non-junior events. On the other hand, some have argued that the changes may result in the avoidance of lost income (through juniors not participating in graded competitions under the arrangements as originally proposed) or an increase in junior chess activity. What is undoubtedly true is that the new situation requires completely new assumptions to be made.
(5) Increased polarisation. There is arguably a greater incentive to become an ECF member or remove oneself from the ECF framework entirely. The universal £2 game fee rate for standard play in all non-junior events, even where a high percentage of members exists, will undoubtedly lead to strong reactions. It’s possible that it may lead to higher membership take-up in some parts of the country, where it will be considered that the balance of the financial arguments favours membership in a larger majority of cases. It is also possible that the universal £2 rate will lead to a fall in the number of graded games, and the assumptions about this will need to be reviewed urgently.
The amended version of the Board’s proposals, as set out above, was duly passed. My sympathies were with Council delegates during this process; it can’t have been easy to keep track of the various amendments, and the Chairman did an excellent job of navigating everyone through the process.
5.50 p.m. 10 items left on the agenda and only 40 minutes to go. Fatigue starting to show. By this stage, the Director of Finance had had to leave, due to another commitment. The impact on the 2012/13 budget of the decisions made above would clearly be significant and complex. The ramifications could not possibly be calculated on the hoof during the meeting. Consequently, I suggested that there was no point putting the original budget to Council for approval. This was accepted, and the Board was asked to prepare a revised budget for consideration by later special resolution. In the meantime, the Board was mandated to proceed on the basis of the proposed budget with regard to expenditure, pending approval of a revised budget.
Asked Council to indicate where we should look to make cuts in the expenditure budget if, as seems likely, the impact of the Game Fee decisions is a reduction in budgeted income. The answer: the International Chess budget.
Sprint(?) for the line
6.10 p.m. With 20 minutes left, there was no prospect for serious discussion of any of the consultation papers published before the meeting. Can’t deny my disappointment at this. Memory of ten 10-hour days in March battling to complete the various papers in time for the pre-Council deadline too strong to ignore. And so it goes, as Vonnegut would say.
Briefest of mentions of the Charitable Status paper before touching on the Codes of Conduct, which had been intended for a Council decision in the case of two out of the three draft documents. In the light of concerns expressed by some delegates, it was decided to treat all three draft codes as documents for consultation, with nothing to be implemented at once.
6.17 p.m. Item 22 – County Championship rules. With delegates visibly wilting, Alex Holowczak manfully soldiered on, seeking Council views on various suggested changes to the championship rules. He nearly made it, when his flag fell.
6.30 p.m. It’s all over. The BCF extraordinary general meeting never made it to the surface. It had been planned to insert it in a break in the ECF meeting after the Financial Capital consultation paper, but that never made it either.
7.25 p.m. Back at Paddington in good time for the 7.50 train to Worcester. Problem. Delays and cancellations showing everywhere. Depending on which Network Rail official you believe, there had been (a) a lightning strike or (b) a cable theft between Paddington and Reading. Result: signal problems and very few trains.
7.48 p.m. Bad news. Worcester train cancelled. Next one scheduled for two hours later, but who knows?
7.55 p.m. Announcement: Trains to Worcester are starting from Reading. Advice is to take next available “fast” train there. Rush for “19.06″ to Plymouth; it leaves at 20.01.
8.32 p.m. Arrive Reading. No trains to Worcester. No staff nearby to ask. Eventually find someone, who advises catching the 20.40 to Birmingham. It is 20.40 when he says this. It leaves dead on time. I reach the platform at 20.41.
Advice is now to catch the 20.50 to Oxford, where a cab will be provided. Board shows it is “on time” until 20.52, when it disappears. Turns out, it never left Paddington. Sinking feeling grows. Only compensation is presence of two charming ladies who are also trying to reach Worcester. Best company I’ve had all day.
Told to wait on same platform for 21.11 to Oxford. At 21.07, told that there is an Oxford train on different platform going right now. Sprint for it and get on. Having made it on time, am unsurprised when it departs late.
9.52 p.m. Arrive Oxford. No trains to Worcester, of course. Taxi arranged by Network Rail for myself, the two ladies and one slightly strange man, who mumbles to himself as we go along. “Buckle up,” says taxi driver, “it’s a twisty road.” He’s not kidding. I’ve driven it many times myself, if not quite that fast.
11.10 p.m. Arrive Worcester Shrub Hill station. Mumbling man worried about cost of taxi home; turns out he leaves couple of miles from me. Give him a lift.
11.37 p.m. Manage to arrive home on the same day I set off. By this stage, feels like a result.
Aftermath to the aftermath
Sunday morning. As expected, lot of activity on the English Chess Forum during and after Council meeting. Comment needed on some of it. Feeling very tired and a little grouchy, which probably shows. On the Forum off and on throughout the day.
Worried about implications for workload of Council decisions. Cancel participation at next weekend’s Bournemouth congress to free up some time and energy reserves. Not happy about it, but feels necessary. Tomorrow the real work begins again.