This article is from Signpost, Winter 2012
Saturday 24th November 76 members attended the EGM at the Britannia Hotel to debate and vote on adoption of a revised Constitution. No one can deny that the subject was well debated, with members putting over their points of view or debating the finer legal points for over an hour. At the end of the debate a vote was taken and the revised constitution was rejected.
The thing that struck me was the high level of abstention, almost a third choosing not to vote for or against the motion. Talking to people afterwards it became clear that many were confused by the debate. They were still asking why change the constitution when it has worked okay for years. Suggestions of a ‘compromise option’ with a two tier management structure appeared attractive to some.
So what is the problem with our constitution and why must we change it?
In simple terms our current constitution attempts to distinguish between ‘officers’ and ‘trustees’ (two tiers of management) and then goes on to give power to manage the society to the officers. This, unfortunately, goes against the very basic principle of charity law i.e. ‘trustees must be responsible for the running and management of the society’.
Now if that isn’t confusing enough clause 3a of our constitution states ‘Each Officer and each Trustee (who must also be an Officer)’ which means ‘all our trustees are officers but not all our officers are trustees’ no wonder people were confused.
This confusion entered our constitution in 2001 when changes were made, prior to that time this confused distinction between officers and trustees did not exist. Yes things worked okay after 2001, but only until 2011 when events highlighted this flaw and all but brought the real work of the society to a halt.
Clearly we must put this matter right and not to put too fine a point on it John Broadbent made it clear that it must be fixed before he will stand for election as Chairman next year. The question is how can we achieve the change in time for the AGM? And how can we be sure that the membership will accept any new proposal?
John and I will, once again, carefully consider the problems that exist with our current constitution, we will be taking account of all the concerns that were raised at the EGM and we will be consulting with our existing officers and trustees. We are both very clear that the Charity Commission (CC) is the ultimate authority, they offer a model constitution saying ‘The model is intended to be sufficiently flexible to deal with most eventualities'. We believe it is in the best long term interests of the Society to use that model as the basis for our constitution. The question now exercising our minds is what is best in the short term - go for the Charity Commission model now (which provides a “permanent” solution) or just correct the flaw in the present constitution and look at more extensive change later?
Subject to the approval of the officers and trustees our aim will be to hold an EGM, on the same day and immediately before the AGM on 27 April 2013, to consider the adoption of a new constitution. At the AGM all officers who wish to stand for election as trustees will have our full support.
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