BCS, the Chartered Institute of IT, which represents 70,000 IT professionals and academics, emerged victorious this evening when its membership voted against motions of no confidence in the BCS leadership at an extraordinary general meeting.
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A majority of BCS members voted to support the organisation’s board of trustees, its chief executive, and its £5 million programme to rebrand as a professional IT body.
A third of the Institute’s Professional Members voted, with almost 75.75% returning a vote of confidence in the trustees and the CEO.
But the vote on a temporary halt to spending on the rebranding programme was closer, with 38% - equivalent to 5,500 BCS members - supporting a move to suspend the progamme until there is full and transparent disclosure of its finances. Some 62%, equivalent to 9,000 members, voted against.
Ian Herbert, former member of BCS council, and one of the activists behind the EGM, said that the debate, which lasted over four hours, had clearly shown the BCS that there were issues it needs to address.
“It's clear the EGM sent a quite sizable shot across their bows. They realise that things need to be changed. We are going to discuss these matters and start sorting them out,” he said.
The EGM supporters held a 40-minute meeting with BCS deputy president Bob Assirati after the EGM in a move which, they said, laid the groundwork for collaboration between the BCS executive and the EGM supporters.
“Both sides are very intent on actually addressing the issues,” said Herbert. “It was the start of a real process. That’s what we hope. If it all goes pear-shaped that’s not the spirit we aim to start with.”
In a victory for the protesters, the BCS withdrew a special resolution to increase the number of members required to bring a future Extraordinary General Meeting, from 50 to 1000, equivalent to 2% of the membership. It said it plans further consultation.
“This issue has been one of the most contentious motions, and while it is clear that most members feel 50 is too low, some also feel that the 2% bar is too high,” said BCS president, Elizabeth Sparrow.
The decision marks the conclusion of four months of heated debate between disaffected members of the organisation and its executive over the organisation’s direction and its relationship with member volunteers.
It comes months after a group of 50 BCS members, led by former BCS trustee Len Keighley, signed motions calling for the BCS to halt spending on its transformation programme. The group called for votes of no confidence in the BCS board of trustees and its chief executive.
Responding to decision, CEO David Clarke said, “Clearly there are lessons to be learned for all concerned from this situation, and everyone needs to take time to reflect on it. If I look for a silver lining in all of this, I am happy to say that there is an already much improved level of engagement and communication across the organisation. We must all take responsibility to ensure that this continues and further improves.
“We have world-class members who are passionate about BCS, its role, and their profession. We need everyone to contribute to the building of the world-class organisation for IT that our transformation programme was designed to achieve in a way that reflects the passion and professionalism of all of our members,” he said.
The dispute has its origins in members concerns over what they felt was BCS’s increasingly difficult relationship with its specialist groups and regional branches, which rely on volunteers to organise events for BCS members.
The BCS members backing calls for the Extraordinary General Meeting, who include former BCS trustees, councillors and a former BCS president, also questioned the transparency of the BCS, and its openness on its financial spending to its members, its trustees and advisory council.
But the majority decision in favour of the BCS executive and its board of trustees will be seen as a vindication of the way the BCS has handled its £5 million programme to rebrand as the Chartered Institute of IT.
Speaking after the event, BCS President, Elizabeth Sparrow said that she hoped the BCS members who supported the EGM would continue to work to improve the organisation.
The momentum for the EGM has built up over the last two years, among BCS members who felt frustrated at the relationship between the organisation and its member groups.
In 2008 the then BCS head of member groups resigned after penning a heart-felt letter warning that BCS volunteers who helped to run the organisation felt they were neither heard nor appreciated.
Elisabeth Somogyi, then a BCS trustee, and longstanding BCS contributor, circulated a report into BCS' member groups in spring last year. She claimed that the volunteers who ran the BCS' member groups felt disregarded, harassed, and in general treated as second-class citizens.
And Rajan Ankatel, a trustee and one of the EGM signatories, was responsible for heading a working group on the future of BCS membership groups. His report, dated May last year, found that the BCS member groups contributed much that was positive to the BCS, but it also picked up rumblings of discontent.
Len Keighley, who resigned as a BCS trustee to bring the EGM, began gathering signatures in March, and presented the requistion for the EGM to the BCS in April. He explained his reasons in an article in Computer Weekly.
But in an interview with Computer Weekly, CEO David Clarke, said that the BCS members had always had issues with the way the membership groups worked, and that he intended to address issues in the BCS restructuring.
He said that felt the EGM supporters did not fully understand the issues, and if anything, the BCS should have provided them with more information about its plans.
The first the BCS knew of the EGM, was when it received an official notice in March, he said
Full voting results
A vote of ‘no confidence’ in the current Trustee Board.
Agree: 3,271 (23.48%)
Disagree: 10,662 (76.52%)
A vote of ‘no confidence’ in the Chief Executive, David Clarke.
Agree: 3,174 (23.02%)
Disagree: 10,613 (76.98%)
A vote to suspend any further expenditure on the ‘transformation programme’ until there is full, open and transparent disclosure of all financial accounting.
Agree: 5,557 (37.61%)
Disagree: 9,217 (62.39%)
Vot to endorse the strategy adopted by the trustee board to develop the BCS into one of the world's leading professional institutes for IT.
Agree: 11,050 (78.36%)
Disagree: 3,051 (21.64%)
Vote to support the decision of the Trustee Board to invest some of the substantial reserves of BCS in the new programmes proposed to implement the strategy.
Agree: 10,567 (75.45%)
Disagree: 3,439 (24.55%)
Vote of confidence in the Trustees and the CEO.
Agree: 10,475 (75.75%)
Disagree: 3,354 (24.25%)