From:                                         Angus French [angus@angusf.myzen.co.uk]

Sent:                                           13 March 2017 18:24

To:                                               'accommodation@englishchess.org.uk'

Cc:                                               'chief.executive@englishchess.org.uk'; 'director.finance@englishchess.org.uk'; 'non-executive.director.A@englishchess.org.uk'; 'non-executive.director.B@englishchess.org.uk'; 'nex.chairman@englishchess.org.uk'; 'chair.governancecommittee@englishchess.org.uk'; 'Richard Tillett'

Subject:                                     Response to the proposal to co-locate the Office with the ECF library

Attachments:                          All CHESS book stock Feb 2011 (sorted).xlsx; report on the chess library 2014.docx

 

Dear accommodation@englishchess.org.uk,

I write in response to the proposal for the “co-location of the Office and the ECF library” included in the email sent by the ECF Office Manager on Wednesday 8 March. Council members have been asked to raise any “strong objections” to the proposal by Monday 13 March and I wish to object on behalf of those I represent.

I’ve read the documents attached to the email from the Office Manager, including the Chief Executive’s letter to Council members. I’ve also read: the previous options presented to Council for the relocation of the library; the minutes of the Council meeting in which a decision was made on those options; David Anderton’s report from late 2014 on the library (attached); and, the discussion on the ECForum. I’ve looked through a catalogue provided by David Anderton (attached) which I believe is of the stock when it was housed at Hastings University.

I wish to object on the following grounds:

1.       Lack of a compelling reason to overturn Council’s previous decision on the exact same option. At its Finance meeting in April 2015, Council was presented with two options: a) to co-locate the library with ECF Office and to move the office from the ground floor at its current building to the first floor; or, b) to relocate the library stock into storage (the option preferred by the Board of that time):

Plan A -- Relocate to the Office in Battle. Re-negotiate the lease to move the office from the ground floor to the first floor in its current building. Strengthen the building’s beams to handle the load of the library. Purchase and install shelving. Move the library. Recruit volunteers or a paid librarian to maintain the library, selling duplicates per a detailed policy to be determined. Establish a registered charity to raise funds to maintain the National Chess Library, co-opting some ECF directors as trustees.

Plan B -- Relocate to Commercial Storage. Move the collections into storage rooms large enough to allow access and sorting of the collections from boxes. Recruit volunteers or a paid librarian to maintain the library, selling duplicates per a detailed policy to be determined. Continue to search for a permanent location free of charge. In due course, decide whether to disestablish the National Chess Library by donating selected volumes to the British Library, to establish a registered charity for the National Chess Library, or some other long-term solution.

The first option is essentially the same as the one now presented: to co-locate the library with the office and to move the office within its current building. The minutes show that Council was “overwhelmingly” in favour option B (to relocate the library stock into storage).

If the Board wishes to overturn a decision made by Council, which has primacy within the ECF, there should be a compelling reason for doing so - and I don’t see that one has been provided.

2.       Failure to implement Council’s chosen option - and to explain the same. Council voted almost two years ago to move the library stock into storage “large enough to allow access and sorting of the collections from boxes”. Why has nothing happened to the Library in almost two years, a period during which rental charges of over £6,000 (source: 2016/17 Budget version C) have been incurred? The Board owes Council an explanation. Would it not still be possible to catalogue/audit the library stock at – or from - its current location?

3.       Economics. The cost of moving the ECF Office from the ground floor to first floor at its current building is an additional £8,198 per annum. As the proposal is for a rental period of at least ten-years this gives a minimum total cost of £81,980.  The number of visits to the library when it was housed at Hastings University is given as “fewer than ten visits per year” (source: Council meeting paper, April 2015). David Anderton, in his report, gave declining visit numbers: down from 32 in 2011 to 8 in 2012 and to 4 in each of 2013 and 2014. Surely it would be ludicrous to spend so much money on something which will barely be utilised?

4.       Unconvincing arguments on the need to improved office accommodation. The Chief Executive’s letter states “a separate room will be available for meetings and library visits, there will be extra space for on-site accounting and bookkeeping work (next to impossible with the current facilities), and we will have a presentable public face for third party visits”. Further information is needed to make these arguments convincing. For example:

a.       There’s no mention of the separate room in the sales literature. Does the proposed accommodation come with exclusive access to the separate room or would the facility be available to other tenants? Would it be free of charge?

b.      Why wasn’t the “next to impossible” situation with the lack of space considered either at the April 2016 Finance Council meeting, when the Five-year plan was presented, or at the October 2016 AGM, when the Board sought (and got) approval to hire a bookkeeper for two-days-a-week? How did the Office manage when John Philpott had responsibility for bookkeeping (and very much more)?

5.       Lack of a plan. The proposal is missing a plan to answer questions such as: When will cataloguing/auditing take place and what resources will it require? How many books is it expected will be kept? What criteria will be used to decide which volumes will be kept and which disposed of? How many books will the proposed office space have capacity for? What will be done with the books which won’t be kept? How many visitors is it anticipated will visit a re-housed library in Hastings (and why Hastings and not somewhere more central)? The omission of a plan is surprising given the level of expenditure proposed.

Council members are asked to respond in a minimal amount of time – just five days. It feels like a decision is being railroaded through. It also feels that the case made is overstated and missing important information. I wonder: what scrutiny did the Non-executive Directors apply?

 

Angus French, ECF Council Representative for Bronze members and for the Croydon & District Chess League.

cc Chief Executive, Finance Director, Non-executive Directors, Chair of the Governance Committee