Newsletter to SHA members in Wales :
This newsletter is devoted solely to the ongoing issues of governance of the SHA at the UK level. Sadly, given all that has happened in the UK since February (the chaos caused by Johnson and his Cabinet, and the growing economic and political crises arising from the economic downturn and Brexit) the U.K. Chair and Secretary of the Association have acted to remove twenty six members from the governing body (the Central Council, CC). Some were delegates from key English branches – London, Liverpool, The North East,Yorkshire and Greater Manchester and some were directly elected by the whole membership. The SHA UK CCconsists, organizationally, of the nations of Wales and Scotland and the West Midlands branch. Wales is represented by two delegates, as is Scotland, but the number from Wales increases to 3 from October 15thafter our AGM. CC now has only half its total members able to attend. Members may have received a letter from the Chair and secretary intended to explain their actions. Welsh Officers – who have served on CC for many years and acted as Vice Chairs in 2018, 2019 and 2020 – are unable to commend that explanation to you. It is partial and misleading. Below are corrections to, and questions arising from, that statement of 24thAugust .
Corrections to, and omissions, from the statement of the Chair and Secretary
- The officers tried to explain why no SGM was called after fifty seven members called for one. An SGM, to discuss a motion of confidence in the chair and secretary or any other matter of concern, is one of the two constitutional routes available to the membership to challenge the actions of officers – in disenfranchising a number of branches by removing their elected delegates from CC and then asking that muted CC to amend the constitution. No one should assume that a motion of no confidence would have been passed. That would have depended upon the two officers being able to justify their actions. What is clear is that, had the SGM gone ahead, all members of the SHA would have been eligible to attend, listen to the debate, and vote accordingly. The SHA is a member lead and member owned body.
- Instead of calling the SGM,(which the two officers had no powers to impede, either under the constitution or under any professed legal opinion) the officers claim that a much reduced and unrepresentative CC was competent to address members’ concerns. Even if the CC had been representative of all parts of the SHA, it could not be competent to resolve matters that were for the whole membership to consider and come to a conclusion upon.
- The report does not address the position of four directly members removed from CC because, allegedly, their fees had not been paid. SHA systems should either have renewed their subscriptions automatically orshould have alerted them to the need to renew. Neither actions were taken. Further, they should not have been removed until an appeals process had been set up and had reported.
- The statement that the Vice Chairs have no role is, at best, misleading. It is correct that the constitution refers to three officers – Chair, Secretary and Treasurer. But it also allows for up to four Vice Chairs to be elected to support the three officers – both to create some resilience and to share the increasing workload. The roles are usually assigned by the Chair and CC. For the current year roles were: leading the Policy process, Dr Tony Jewell; overseeing campaigning and links with socialist bodies, Mark Ladbrooke and Vivien Walsh, Governance (and changing the constitution) Tony Beddow. However, the action of the Chair and secretary in declaring invalid the CC elected at the start of the year also removed the four vice chairs elected by the CC immediately following the AGM on the 29th February.
- The “officers” did not undertake an “investigation”. Only the Chair and the Secretary were involved, behind both the backs of the Treasurer (the third officer) and the Vice Chairs. There was no credible explanation as to why this was kept secret. Furtive governance of a democratic member- lead body is not usually helpful. Further, the officers did not share any emerging results of this “investigation” with the third officer or the Vice Chairs. (One might have thought that the Vice Chair – Governance ought to have been involved). What the “investigation” revealed was that which most members of CC knew – that because of inaccurate recording of membership levels in the Greater Manchester branch by past officers and the then Director – there was no certainty about the number of Greater Manchester members eligible to vote. Thus the Greater Manchester branch was suspended for several months in 2019 whilst its true number of genuine members was validated and once this was done it was reinstated at an AGM organised by the National Secretary, Jean Hardiman Smith. At the unexpected calling of the General Election, CC members agreed to adjust the timetable for all branches to elect their delegates to CC given an external circumstance that could not have been foreseen. This was an openly declared step that other legal advice confirms was within the competency of both the officers and CC to take in the circumstances. Unlike the sudden removal of 26 branch delegates actioned by the Chair and Secretary, the then aim of Central Council was to include members, not shut them out.
- The latitude used by that then fully representative CC – now challenged by the “investigation of the Chair and secretary” – was far less than that now claimed to be available to a “rump” CC able to do business that only an SGM and an AGM should, under the constitution, do.
- The reference to legal threats being made by members is inaccurate. The facts are that four senior members of the SHA took legal advice about a) the sudden removal of many Council members as a result of a secretive process b) the stated intention of two officers quickly to call a meeting of that rump body where improper business (amending the constitution) was planned. The only action available in the short time before CC was to meet was to seek a court injunction to stop the meeting taking place. A “notice before action” to this effect was served on both the secretary and chair with both a request for a speedy response and with the offer to withdraw legal action if both officers re-considered their hasty and furtive actions. No timely response was forthcoming. By the time a reply had arrived, the availability of court time in Birmingham where the hearing was planned was such that no hearing could be arranged before the rump Council meeting of 1st August.
- The report places great weight on a comment made by Dr Alex Scott Samuel in the May 2020 CC meeting, where – in a debate about the status of the delegation from Oxford – he noted that CC had discretion to respond constructively where the intention was to increase member involvement as was the case with the Oxford delegates and had been the case with the Greater Manchester branch. The “admission of unconstitutional behaviour” was repeated in the rump CC meeting in August, based on inaccurate minutes of the May CC that were challenged by delegates to the August CC. The recordings of the May and August council meetings make clear the import of Dr Scott Samuel’s remark.
- The ‘report of the investigation into elections’ and subsequent correspondence in response to branch complaints, puts the blame for ‘invalid’ elections on previous officers. The report failed to make clear that one of the two previous officers is the current secretary, who then conducted the ‘investigation’. This is a clear conflict of interest and also raises the question of why, if the constitution was so clearly breached when conducting the 2019 / 20 election as is now claimed, did the secretary make the arrangements she did?
10 The Treasurer has identified that there are financial irregularities in the way that SHA funds have been used. In particular this relates to the operation of a PayPal account, from which the temporary independent contractor (Ken Smith) is paid, via his wife, the Secretary. Until very recently, there appear to have been no invoices or detailed recording of what such payments have covered, and they have not been routinely authorised by the Treasurer as required by the Constitution.
- To the chair – Is it true that you were required to step down as chair of “ Reclaiming Social Care” and, if so might that have been because of your leadership style as so well displayed at the 1st August meeting of CC upon which many members have commented?
- To both – Who questioned the legitimacy of branch elections of delegates to CC, who did you consult about the terms of your enquiry and its outcome?
- To both – What alternative steps did you consider to regularise any defects in the election arrangements of branches (as you saw them) that would have retained the involvement of active branches? Why was exclusion of branches more important than inclusion?
- To both – On what basis did you decide to remove 26 branch and nationally elected delegates from CC and for what period do you intend the rump and unrepresentative CC to operate?
- To both – What governing principle caused you to feel that preventing mostbranches from taking part in the governance of the Association for a period of probably nine months was consistent with the aims and values of the SHA, and those of the wider Labour movement?
- What have you done to both examine and address the complaints of CC members removed from the Council and to set up the appropriate complaints process for them to use? (Given that complaints are about the Chair and Secretary’s actions, presumably you agree that the appropriate process must pass to the Treasurer as the remaining officer.)
7.To both: why have you not made sure that the Treasurer has full access to the PayPal account, rather than just being sent information via the temporary independent contractor?
- To both: why have you not made sure that SHA’s compliance with GDPR includes the Treasurer as an appropriate person to have access to membership data, as required by the Constitution?
- To the Secretary: If the elections of branch delegates were so obviously flawed as is now asserted, why did you proceed to oversee the arrangements in the Manchester branch and why didn’t you – as the “company secretary” – raise objections at the time?
- To both: if the constitution is as sacrosanct as you both claim, on what constitutional basis did you ignore the call from 57 members (more than are now on the CC) for an urgent SGM when the constitution couldn’t be clearer. If 30 members call for an SGM to conduct specified business, “it shall be called”.