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Northern Counties Chess Union

Established 1899

A constituent unit of the English Chess Federation


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ECF AGM 2023


The ECF AGM of 2023 was held on 14/10/2023, in part face-to-face in Manchester, and in part by Zoom.  Tim Wall, President of the NCCU, attended as the NCCU’s delegate, and reports on the meeting as follows.


Report from the ECF AGM in Manchester: 14 October, 2023


by Tim Wall, NCCU Delegate


Key Takeaways:


1.    The ECF AGM in Manchester on Saturday October 14, 2023 voted in as a Non‑Executive Director Sarah Longson, despite being warned by the Governance Committee that the proposed imminent appointment by the ECF Board of her husband (Alex Longson) as Finance Director would constitute a likely conflict of interest.


2.    The NCCU’s membership proposal (£25 for all adult members in a single category) was defeated heavily by an alliance of the block vote wielded by CEO Mike Truran’s allies, along with delegates who said that Bronze members would rather give up playing league chess than pay £7 extra for a single membership category.


3.    The meeting instead voted for one of the Board’s membership options: Combining Gold and Silver memberships at £33, while retaining the Bronze membership at £18. In effect, this raises the membership fee by £6 for Silver Members, reduces it by £6 for Gold Members and creates a bigger barrier (upgrading will cost £15) for players playing in their first congress or tournament.


Late Start


The first issue at the AGM was a forced change of venue, which led to the meeting starting 1 hour and 15 minutes late.


The original venue, the NatWest offices in Manchester city centre, had to be abandoned after a prolonged fire drill disrupted proceedings. Delegates reconvened at the Edwardian Radisson Hotel 500 metres away and the meeting finally got under way at 2:45pm. This reduced the time available for the meeting, and meant that the key debate on reforming the membership categories was somewhat rushed, as it was near the end of the agenda.


Credit should be given to Council Chair David Eustace, who ran the meeting politely and efficiently in general, despite the difficulties and time pressure, and Andrew Walker, the ECF webmaster who kept the hybrid part of the meeting on Zoom running remarkably smoothly. I don’t know exactly how the meeting was for the participants on Zoom, as I was in the room in Manchester and we generally only heard the Zoom participants rather than seeing them. Because of echo issues, participants in the room were encouraged not to join the Zoom call, and Zoom participants were only heard in audio, not seen in video.


Participants in Manchester included:

David Eustace (Council Chair), Stephen Woodhouse (Board Non-Exec Chair, carrying various proxies for CEO Mike Truran and others), Nigel Towers (Director of Home Chess), Nick Faulks (Finance Committee chair), Robert Stern (Governance committee chair), John Reyes (various), myself (NCCU, Northumberland, Gold Members, plus various northern organisations and proxies), Chris Fegan (Chess in Schools and Communities), Dave Clayton (Leyland Rapidplay), Mark Murrell (Essex), Adam Ashton (outgoing Finance Director), Gareth Ellis (Merseyside and Cheshire & North Wales) and Damien McIlvenney (Manchester, at the chair’s invitation).


Online, participants included Malcolm Pein (International Director), Rob Willmoth (Membership Director), Aga Milewska (Women’s Chess Director), Sarah Longson (UKCC and Non-Executive Director candidate), Katarzyna Toma (Non-Executive Director candidate), Michael Farthing (Voting Registration Officer), Stephen Mann (Doncaster Congress), Stephen Greep (Non-Executive Director), Mike Waddington (Gold Members), Adrian Elwin (proxy for North Essex League & Bury St Edmonds Congress), Gavin Cartwright (Silver Members), Roger Lancaster (Watford Junior Chess), Satish Gaekwad (SCCU) and Paul Cooksey (Berkshire). (Apologies to those I’ve missed.)


Committee Reports


The meeting was essentially in four more main parts: reports from the Board and Committees, contested elections, uncontested elections, and the most controversial policy issue – proposed changes to the membership structure and pricing.


The Board Report and Strategy Statement were light in substance, and were glossed over and noted as delegates clearly wanted to get to other key issues.


The Finance Committee report, moved by Nick Faulks, was approved with a couple of objections, over its criticism of the 2022 Chennai Olympiad expenditures and its criticism of the NCCU’s membership proposal.


Non-Executive Director Election




Sarah Longson 125


Katarzyna Toma 99


Against all 17


Before the hustings for Non-Executive Director took place, Governance Committee chair Robert Stern warned the AGM that, as the Board had indicated it was ready to appoint Alex Longson, Sarah’s husband and fellow director of the UK Chess Challenge, as Finance Director, this would create potential conflicts of interest. In Robert’s (very diplomatic) language, the outcome of both Sarah and Alex being on the Board simultaneously was described as “sub-optimal,” due to the non-executive directors’ role in examining the work of the executive directors. 


However, the AGM took a different view, electing Sarah by a slim majority (with the support of CEO Mike Truran, who nominated her, and International Director Malcolm Pein, who canvassed delegates on her behalf in the weeks before the AGM).


Malcolm Pein appeared to dismiss suggestions of conflicts of interest by saying that the ECF really needed a Finance Director as it prepares to receive £500,000 in government funding for the development of elite chess, and that therefore Alex Longson would be very soon proposed and supported for the role.


In Sarah Longson’s pitch for the post, she claimed that she faced “discrimination” in standing for the role, and that comments about conflicts of interest were unwarranted. Sarah, who currently sits on the Board of the Chess Trust and is an ECF Junior Selector and a former Women’s Chess Director, said she would bring a “fresh approach” to the Board, without going into specifics.


In her comments to the AGM, Katarzyna Toma (a Women’s Grandmaster from Poland who now plays for England) stressed that her outsider status would help her hold the Board to account, and emphasized the importance of tackling discrimination against female players and building up the junior pyramid at all levels to develop the game in England.


Home Chess Director Election




Nigel Towers (incumbent) 210


Tim Wall 46


Against All 4


The incumbent, Nigel Towers, a close ally of CEO Mike Truran, scored a widely expected landslide victory.


As the incumbent, Nigel’s programme has been to maintain the status quo, with minor improvements. He has managed to construct a large voting majority, as the key players who control the votes at Council, plus a majority of grassroots county and other organisations, view his record as one of reasonable competence, particularly as the ECF’s main competitions have eventually got back to normal after the Covid pandemic.


However, there is an alternative view that I tried to put forward, that we need an ambitious programme of development. There remain serious underlying issues with English chess: congresses struggling financially, despite increased entries; problems with the affordability of venues; a lack of strong young players coming through the ranks, comparative to other countries; a lack of commercial sponsorship for the game; and a clear shortage of trained arbiters.


I also advocated for a National Chess Centre in the centre of the country, to help the development of the game nationally, and a number of other initiatives, contained in my Election Address.


My main aim in standing was to raise issues and put forward an alternative. To a certain extent, therefore, my candidature was a limited success – insomuch as Council delegates listened to my case.


But it does raise a difficult issue: That any candidate will struggle to get elected in the ECF currently, unless you have explicit support of the CEO, Mike Truran. Anyone not having his support finds that there is a well-orchestrated campaign against them – this has been my experience in the 2020 and 2023 elections for Home Chess Director, and the 2022 election for Non-Executive Chair of the Board.


Uncontested Elections




Council Chair: David Eustace – For 231, Against 2


Membership Director: Rob Willmoth – For 222, Against 12


FIDE Delegate: Malcolm Pein – For 220, Against 4


Finance Committee members:


Ray Clark – For 224, Against 5


David Eustace – For 232, Against 1


Governance Committee members:


Michael Farthing – For 217, Against 5


David Eustace – For 217, Against 4


Peter Hornsby – For 217, Against 11


Watson Associates were appointed as auditors for a third year running.


Silver Membership Eliminated, Gold & Silver Combined


Arguably the AGM’s most important item of business, the vote on membership categories, was crammed into the last hour of the meeting – a factor that definitely affected the length and quality of the debate.


The Board had prepared two options for changes to membership categories, while the NCCU had its own proposal:


Option 1) Gold, Silver and Bronze to be combined at £33 a year, but existing Bronze members would be allowed to stay Bronze at £18, until they let their membership lapse or entered a congress.


Option 2) Gold and Silver to be combined at £33 a year, while Bronze members would continue at £18 a year.


Option 3) In contrast, the Northern Counties proposed a flat rate of £25 for adult membership, combining Gold, Silver and Bronze and allowing all members to be able to have congress and FIDE-rated games rated for free.


Option 4) No Change.


At the heart of the debate over membership, in the NCCU’s view, is whether all members should be treated equally, and be allowed to have free rating of all forms of chess. We felt that this idea was well represented in the NCCU proposal, and we prepared figures for the AGM showing that there would not be a significant negative effect on membership revenues. Unfortunately, the Chair did not show these figures to delegates, despite a request that he do so.  [See here as separate document.]


Nigel Towers, for the Board, and some other delegates argued that a significant number of Bronze Members would stop playing league chess if they were asked to pay an extra £7 a year. Bronze Members rep Gareth Ellis, citing anonymous sources, said that “whole divisions” would give up playing chess if the £25 membership fee was introduced.


In contrast, the Board’s two options each had significant drawbacks: Option 1, where existing Bronze Members would only keep their £18 level until their membership lapsed or they entered a congress, has been widely seen as unfair and impractical, while the problem with Option 2, now adopted as policy, is that upgrading from Bronze to Gold will now cost members an extra £15, widening the gap between league and congress players, and potentially hitting entries at local congresses.


Consultations on the membership options with ordinary members of the federation were, as usual, inadequate. Despite the Board having had six months to come up with proposals, they only did so at the end of August. Then, the Board only did a surveyed about which of its two options members preferred. After the NCCU’s proposal was submitted in early September, no extra option was added, and members were not given the option to choose ‘No Change’ over Board Option 1 or Board Option 2.


The ECF Gold Member reps (myself and Mike Waddington) did carry out an objective ECF Office-emailed Gold Members survey about all four options, with the NCCU’s proposal the winner by a mile (127 votes compared to Options 2 and 4, which each got 20 votes, while Option 1 got 6 votes). Silver Members’ reps told the AGM they emailed Silver Members in the few days prior to the meeting, but their results (a majority for No Change) could not be independently verified.


To decide the membership categories, the AGM staged a game-show style knockout voting system, where the two ECF Board options would be voted on in a Quarter-Final.


The winning Board option would then go through to a Semi-Final vs. the NCCU £25 option.


And finally, the winner of the Semi-Final would go through to a Final vs. No Change.


In the debate, the Board were given the floor three times to promote their options (one for each vote), whereas the NCCU were only given the chance to speak to their resolution once, after the Quarter-Final vote.


Membership Options – Results


Round 1: Board (1) v Board (2)


Board (1): (One category £33, pre-existing Bronze members £18) – 40 votes

Board (2): (Two categories: Gold £33, Bronze £18) – 215 votes


Round 2: Board (2) v NCCU (3)


Board (2): (Two categories: Gold £33, Bronze £18) – 211 votes

NCCU (3): (One adult membership category £25) – 54 votes


Round 3: Board (2) v No Change (4)


Board (2): (Two categories: Gold £33, Bronze £18) – 136 votes

No Change (4): - 122 votes


It was decided by a vote of 214-25 to abolish the posts of Silver Direct Members Representatives, and to create two more Gold Member Reps.


The Board is to prepare recommended membership fees for the remaining categories at the April 2024 Finance Meeting.




On the Non-Executive Director and Finance Director elections, I feel this was very poorly handled by the Board and AGM. It is not a question of the individuals involved, but of the key principle that Non-Executive Directors should be independent and impartial. This is stated clearly by the UK Institute of Directors’ instructions on Non-Executive Directors:


“Non-executive directors are expected to focus on board matters and not stray into ‘executive direction’, thus providing an independent view of the company that is removed from the day-to-day running. NEDs, then, are appointed to the board to bring:


  • independence
  • impartiality”


It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Board should have listened to the Governance Committee’s warning, and strongly discouraged Sarah and Alex Longson from simultaneously standing for the Board.


Perhaps the further key conclusion from this AGM is that the ECF needs to adopt a “one direct member, one vote” system for elections and other key votes to allow full democracy – as virtually every major organisation in the country does. Without this change, the problems with conflicts of interest will persist and may worsen.


The current impression given by the ECF is of an organisation run largely in the interest of a small number of officials, who have benefited from a restricted representative system where ordinary members do not get a direct vote and whose views are not sufficiently consulted, if at all.


Until the ECF changes to a “one direct member, one vote” system, very little change will happen, and grassroots organisations that try to fairly represent ordinary members will continue to be sidelined and ignored.


17 October 2023