BCS vote: 5-minute interview with David Clarke and Elizabeth Sparrow, BCS CEO and president

5-minute interview: Computer Weekly spoke to BCS CEO David Clarke

Computer Weekly spoke to BCS CEO David Clarke (pictured) and president Elizabeth Sparrow, after a four-hour debate at an Extraordinary General Meeting on Thursday in the BCS London office. About 75% of the 15,600 BCS members who took part in an electronic poll voted to support the BCS executive, and to overturn votes of no confidence in its leadership. About 60% voted against a motion to suspend the BCS's £5 million rebranding programme until the organisation improves the programme's financial accountability.

David, what is your reaction to the EGM results ?

I am pleased that, first of all, so many of our members voted - 15,600 is a huge number, more than double the number we have had for any other general meeting or any kind of vote, to be honest. That shows that an awful lot of our members were engaged in this. And, of course, I am equally delighted that a large number of those who voted, voted in favour of the trustees, myself and the programme. So we are delighted we have got a very clear mandate to get on with the job.

There had been warning signs of discontent among BCS member groups. How did things get to the point where members called an Extraordinary General Meeting?

I have been doing a little bit of research on some of the issues around specialist groups in the BCS. I read a paper, believe it or not, in 2000 that you would have thought was written in January 2010. There has just constantly been issues around the way specialist groups think they are supported, branches think they are supported, versus what they want.

But the real problem is that there is such a diversity of groups, that a number of our specialist groups don't want to do anything at all. They really object to us getting involved in them in any way. Others want more of everything, want more support, want more money. And its very difficult to deal even-handedly with them.

One of the changes in the transformation was to look at our board structure, particularly our membership board, to try to sort these things out. For quite a long time, we have had a proposal for a new membership board.

We actually believed we were addressing the issues. Why people would not give that the chance to look at it, the chance to work, I don't understand. We were aware of the issues. We were trying to address them all. And it's just crazy. Now, of course, once 50 signatures are received for an EGM, you have to hold it.

Did the people who signed the EGM have any valid points?

There is a whole raft of stuff. If 50 people sign something like that, you can't say they haven't got anything. They have got some issues. Whether we would think they were valid in the sense that they really understood, and they understood all the background, they understood all the detail - I don't think that was the case. They did not have enough information. And if we look at ourselves in this case, I don't think we gave those people enough information to head it off beforehand.

But the problem is, we knew about this situation when we got the EGM requisition with 50 signatures on it. The issues were not discussed at any great length.

There are claims, for example, that data was repeatedly asked for at council and yet council members are saying, no that's not the case. It was asked for once, that information, not very clearly.

So we were struggling to understand how this got to the EGM. And the issues were not the ones listed. The deeper issues, around whether the BCS really is run 100% by a democratic process of its members, that has been there since 2000. It is a mix. You have to work with your members. The members deliver a huge amount of what we do. We are all in this together. But the efficient process of how this works is something we are continually trying to do.

Elizabeth, do you see a future in the BCS for the members who supported the EGM?

Clearly, we have been working for some time. In fact, since shortly before I became president, I have been studying the very issues that have been raised in the EGM meeting, trying to address the underlying issues and trying to understand what needs to be put right. We have lots of initiatives in hand already. But we want to build and develop on those.

What I dearly hope is that those who called the EGM do now accept and respect the views of the professional membership, and the views that have come across so very clearly today on the outcome of the vote.

I would ask them simply to accept and respect that vote. But we really want to work with them and would love to see them continue to contribute to the future of the BCS. What this is all about, after all, is us working together for the good of the organisation.

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