If you’ve received an email from Matt Ewles, BCA secretary, entitled BCA Ballot – Vote Now, you may have been a little surprised at the lack of information about the changes. So what are we being asked to vote for?
Previous ballots have been criticised with claims that BCA failed to supply members with sufficient detail to make informed decisions, so it seems they are determined to continue in the same vein. The email states this is a change to the existing two-house system of voting at general meetings, as well as the implementation of online voting. But what’s really happening? And how should you vote?
Unfortunately the link in the email isn’t to the BCA agenda mentioned, but to a page listing BCA minutes and agendas. If anyone is wondering, you need the third on the list. Clicking that link on my phone and clicking ‘open’ resulted in – well, nothing. It doesn’t work, at least not on my Samsung – perhaps I should have bought an iPhone? Hint to BCA webmaster – I don’t have a problem opening PDF docs from anywhere else on my phone.
Undeterred, I decided to try the link on the PC, and was rewarded with a 37-page document. Progress. I scrolled through to appendix 9 page 28 and eventually found the relevant bit, followed by six pages of detailed changes to the BCA constitution.
By this time, I’m wondering if this was simply carelessness or if something more was going on. Are the BCA trying hide things from me by sending me links that don’t work on my phone? Are they pushing through changes I may not agree with and hoping I won’t go to the trouble of browsing a 37-page and fairly boring AGM agenda to work out what I’m being asked to vote for? Or is it simply that no one bothered to come up with a concise list of the changes proposed and detail the effect they would have. This wasn’t how I’d planned to spend my Saturday.
The motion begins: “In a system where all individual members can easily vote on important matters without having to attend a physical meeting …”
I’m sure that wasn’t mentioned in the email?
So the first effect would be to allow members who are not present to vote at an AGM, which sounds OK in theory – more democratic perhaps? But will this be a live vote or take place after the meeting? Will it apply to any motion or just to certain motions, and if so who decides which ones? If the vote would take place after the meeting would this lead to a situation where the AGM isn’t in fact able to take a decision? If the voting is live does that mean we all have to sit at home throughout the meeting waiting for a vote?
The answer to some of these questions is given at the bottom of the motion in the next to last paragraph. A 30-day online poll would take place as soon as possible after the AGM. It’s easy to see how a small number of members could push through pet motions with such a system in an online poll that most members neither know about, nor care about – and remember the BCA’s track record on putting clear information out about polls. It’s also difficult to see how this would simplify the decision-making process at all. In fact, it seems to create more work and uncertainty.
To discover which motions will be subject to an online poll you need to dig deeper into the proposed amendments. The quick answer seems to be every one with support from ten individuals or 25 per cent of individuals who vote, whichever is the lower. In other words – every decision previously made by the AGM will be subject to confirmation by online poll, and the AGM in effect will only decide which motions to reject. And to complicate things further, if the AGM rejects a motion but enough people vote in favour it will still move forward to a vote.
Potentially this would even mean conflicting motions could be passed – it’s conceivable that following the poll the AGM could end up with proposals accepted both for and against more or less two identical motions. In case you don’t think that’s likely, have a read of the draft minutes of the last AGM, pages 12 to 14, to get an idea of how a conflict could arise. Again, to save you a little time here’s a quick summary – an additional position was created in one vote, making five in total. Four further votes took place, and two positions remained empty. All five votes would be subject to an online poll and if that overturned the decision to create an extra post, and reversed the second two, the meeting would have appointed five people to four posts. Not the end of the world, but clearly a fairly poorly thought-out approach to running an organisation the size of BCA.
The motion continues: “I believe there would be no need for group voting in addition to individual voting; this is simply duplication of representation.”
To those that understand how voting at a BCA AGM works, this will be clear, but for those that don’t perhaps a little explanation would help. The BCA was set up on a ‘two house’ basis, a little like the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The first ‘house’ is made up of individual members, the second of ‘groups’ which includes clubs and other organisations, such as regional caving associations. For a vote to pass it must pass in both ‘houses’, and for constitutional change, a majority of 70 per cent is required in both.
So in short, the proposal will end the right of groups to vote, and in future only individual members would be entitled to a vote.
The motion then gives some detail about how it is thought groups may be voting, how organisations of different sizes have the same vote, and raises doubts about how some groups may form their opinions and whether they all consult members. It goes on to say:
“It is more appropriate that rather than voting themselves, groups should lobby their members to vote individually if there is something that they feel strongly about. This might even encourage groups to talk with their members about the BCA more often.”
Which is an odd statement when you consider that before groups could lobby their members to vote they would have to take a decision on which way to lobby, at which point all the doubts just expressed kick straight back in. And you could ask what business it is of the BCA how often groups talk to their members? Or perhaps I’m being too sceptical …
“Finally, removal of group voting makes online voting a much simpler system to establish and removes a level of complexity from the process; and I passionately believe that if BCA is to remain a volunteer-led organisation it needs to be simplified.”
Assuming the BCA are setting up a ballot system that can cope with multiple ballots then it should be fairly easy to run two ballots, one for Individuals and one for groups each time a ballot is called. In fact it appears the BCA already has this system in place – we are, after all, being asked to vote in such a ballot now. Removing group voting means that instead of having two ballots you have one. It’s a bit simpler, but does that in any way justify removing the vote from clubs, for example, or organisations such as the CSCC or CNCC?
If you want to simplify the system, why introduce a complex and time-consuming system where AGM decisions are subject to online polls which may take weeks or months to reach a conclusion? And why introduce a system which may be wide open to abuse from small but determined groups pushing pet projects, a risk one change even mentions in relation to dissolving the organisation but doesn’t appear to recognise in relation to voting on other matters, in comment ME22 on page 34: “Amended procedure to reflect no two-house voting system but avoiding the risk of a renegade band of individuals forcing dissolution.”
One last detail, mentioned in the last paragraph of the motion without any explanation, is that whilst this appears to be two more or less unrelated proposals you have only one vote and have to accept both or reject both.
So far as the first proposal is concerned there is certainly some duplication and unfairness in the present group voting system. Allowing regional councils and clubs a vote without regard to how many cavers each represent seems unfair, and perhaps a system where groups have a vote based on their size (i.e. 100 members 100 votes) and perhaps are encouraged to poll their members and even split their vote based on the wishes of their membership could be considered? It may also seem reasonable to reduce duplication by allowing only clubs to vote and removing the vote from other groups.
The second proposal will complicate a system that needs modernisation although clearly there is some merit in allowing members a vote if they can’t or won’t attend meetings. To achieve this by introducing a system that invites more conflict, vote rigging, less certainty and slower decision-making seems wrong. In order for members to be able to make a decision on an online poll it would really be necessary to publish draft AGM minutes first, to somehow persuade people to read them, and to then make a reasoned decision on each issue. The draft minutes of the last meeting ran to 22 A4 pages. Rather than introducing online AGM voting perhaps the BCA should invest in online polling of members in advance of votes or consider introducing the option of polling for a small number of decisions which the AGM decides to put to the membership.
In conclusion, it’s difficult to see these two proposals as simplifying and modernising the BCA if accepted as they presently stand.
There’s another six and a half pages to ferret through if you want all the detail, and I’m not going to do that here so here’s the motion in full, and you’ll have to make your own minds up!