Upcoming Welsh Bridge Union AGM

Started by gwynndavis, May 22, 2024, 10:15 AM

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gwynndavis

I don't know if anyone reads this Forum these days, but I feel I have to try to inject some clarity, some focus, into a confused and depressing picture.

Welsh bridge - I mean bridge at national level - is in a parlous state. We all know that. Membership numbers are in steep decline - a decline that has been in evidence for at least two decades, but which has accelerated recently. Membership income is correspondingly reduced. There is still a lot of bridge being played in Wales, and the game itself retains its appeal, but the Welsh Bridge Union is irrelevant to most bridge players and has shown itself devoid of the imagination needed to make itself relevant.

One would normally look to the leadership of the organisation to turn this around. We have an annual AGM coming up on 2nd June, and that is a once in a year opportunity to do something, but of course the AGM is not an effective mechanism for governance all year round. We have Council, which for years has been a dead letter, meeting as it does just once a year immediately prior to the AGM. Its principal function has been to confirm the appointment of the Chief Executive (tasked with leadership of the organisation) and set her salary. And then we have a Management Committee (MC), responsible alongside the Chief Executive for the day to day running of the WBU.

Those last two - MC and Chief Executive - have failed. There's no point blaming individuals, but failure is failure and should be acknowledged.

That failure is marked principally by an inability to develop a programme of events that people want to play in.
A large part of the magic of bridge is that it can be played at so many different levels. Sadly, even for the small cadre of committed tournament players, of whom I am one, the WBU's competitive programme has been a saga of ineptitude: over-priced, under-promoted, often cancelled.

For what might be characterised as the average club player, the situation is worse. The WBU has not managed to devise events with broad appeal. Not everyone wants to play two sessions a day. Not everyone is prepared to pay £25 or £30 (rather than their usual £2) for the privilege of being beaten up by more experienced players. At least give them free tea and cake. Break up the day with a presentation by someone who can entertain as well as inform. In short, try to cater for the membership as a whole. More than that, why not try to cater for bridge players who've decided they don't want to be members of the WBU? And stop trying to rip them off. Recent charging policy betrays a misguided set of priorities. The focus should be on participation, not money-making - the latter being self-defeating in any event.

Chat around the upcoming AGM indicates that the leadership of the WBU knows it's in trouble. And what are its proposals? Read them and weep. First there is a proposal to suspend Council and transfer their reponsibilities to the MC. That is more a change in theory than practice as Council doesn't do anything anyway other than set the salary of the Chief Executive (currently, it would appear from the accounts, £12.5K). Who is meant to do that now? - I suppose the MC. So the body which above all is responsible the for the current state of the Welsh Bridge Union is to be cemented in its position as the effective sole authority within the WBU.

The other proposal that the MC has come up with is to limit the cost of representative bridge, loading those costs on to the players, hardship cases aside. Frankly, they could hardly do anything else. Welsh international players, including myself in recent times, have been pampered and indulged for decades. Yes, of course they should pay.

And that's it. That is all the MC has to offer. Well it's not enough. It only confirms the leadership vacuum at the heart of the WBU. That vacuum needs to be filled. It's no use looking to the Management Committee - there's no leadership there. It's a talking shop, and has been for years. It exists; it's in the Constitution; but it would be better if it never met.

Nor is there any point looking to the current Chief Executive. The WBU needs someone with strategic vision and an ability to lead and inspire. We don't have that person in post at the moment.

The other area requiring urgent attention is our programme of competitions. There have been some major mis-steps - a whole series of them in fact. Imagination has proven to be lacking. The one new event in the past 20 years - the Champion of Champions - wasn't the invention of the WBU. It was dreamt up by Adrian Trickey, since when the WBU has done its best to make a mess of it. Promotion is neglected. Pricing is wrong. I know that Simon gives a lot to the WBU, but if he is to remain in post he needs help. He needs to take advice. He needs to stop talking, and listen.

Will the AGM on 2nd June succeed in addressing these issues? I'm not holding my breath, but I mean to attend.

Simon Richards

"I don't know if anyone reads this Forum these days, but I feel I have to try to inject some clarity, some focus, into a confused and depressing picture."

I do read the Forum periodically but, as postings on the Forum are so rare, it is is not an onerous task and I will add some more detailed commnets on Gwynn's posting later this week.

Whilst I do agree with many of Gwynn's comments, they can be applied to bridge in general and not just the WBU, although the WBU does have its own specific issues.

Simon Richards

The comments in the second paragraph of Gwynn's email could possibly be applied to most current Bridge NBOs in that membership (and consequently income to the NBO) is in decline and has been in decline for many years event without the additional complications resulting from the COVID pandemic.

The AGM this weekend will report a loss for the WBU in 2024 of over £8,000 although this is substantiality reduced from the previous year's losses, however such continued cannot be sustained. What I do not see though is a planned budget and projected income going forward. Gwynn comments on the increased entry fees for WBU events although these are less that one would pay to play in similar EBU events. If we do not get income from competition entries and Master Point income is waning then where does the WBU raise its money to cover the honaria for management and a Chief Executive - not that I would be critical of anybody in those roles?

Certainly we need change (this sounds like a Labour Election Manifesto!). I do not see the purpose of Council, as it currently stands. We need to look forward to where we want the WBU to be in 5 years time. Perhaps it is the time for the four WBU regions to become more closely affiliated with the EBU as a equivalent "County"? I would certainly support that.

Alan Screen

Gwynn and Simon are correct in many ways.

The MC at concept was to be a small team of enthusiastic members: President; CEO; NTO; Treasurer; and 3 others. Council was retained to "oversee" the MC at the insistence of those representing some of the Areas who also insisted on having one member of MC from each Area. This was not a positive move.

The problem with the WBU is the acute shortage of volunteers, each having the energy and enthusiasm to make progress. I am a prime example of one who is well past his "sell by date". Another problem this past year has been the decision of the President, who agreed to do a second year, then quitting. The leadership of MC, and indeed the WBU, should be strongly led by the President and CEO, working closely.

Many volunteers in Wales and in other organisations, I'm sure, leave because they don't need the undeserved criticisms and occasional abuse.

The incoming President is young. Now we have financial stability, giving the incoming MC the opportunity to focus on some of the points raised in this forum.
Covid caused chaos throughout Society. Recovery is a slow process.

The MC is appointed by Council. NEW MEMBERS WELCOME (as replacements)

gwynndavis

For Welsh bridge areas - singly or in combination - to affiliate to the EBU as an EBU 'county' (or counties) would require the players, and their clubs, to conform to the EBU charging and membership scheme, including 'pay to play'. It offers a lot more than we do currently, but it's expensive. It's unlikely to appeal to the great majority of current WBU members who do not play in EBU events and know little about them. It would also be difficult for Wales to continue to host home internationals as we would lack the infrastructure and the funding to do that. In short it would be difficult to reconcile with Wales remaining as a separate NBO. This may be where we're headed, but the implications are stark.

I don't believe we're there yet, and I have some ideas about the kind of structure that might help us to run our affairs better than we do at the moment. I'll put these in a separate post.

gwynndavis

I have been brutal in my observations about the ineffectiveness of the current WBU management, but I also acknowledge that some people have made - and continue to make - a major contribution. I hope they continue to do so. The WBU needs its officers, and depends on them. But the present structure - Chief Executive and Management Committee - is not fit for purpose. I suggest that the following might work better. Some of this comes through discussion with David Smith.

I propose four working groups, each granted autonomy within their respective sphere of responsibility. Note - not working parties (heaven help us), but year round working groups. There would of necessity be some overlap between them, and a few key individuals might have input to more than one group. How the groups conduct themselves would be a matter for them - they wouldn't necessarily need to meet, at least not very often, although they would need to communicate effectively. Each group would need a convenor.

These would be the groups.

FINANCE / MEMBERSHIP
This group would of course include the Treasurer and the Membership Secretary, who would maintain their current responsibilities. The group would be responsible for the WBU's whole financial strategy, including its relationship with the clubs. It would be responsible for all forms of income generation, and for budgeting. It would have the final say on all items of expenditure. Because finance gets everywhere it would also have input into the other groups.

TOURNAMENTS AND LEAGUES
This group would decide the WBU's tournament schedule and be responsible for promotion and pricing. If we are to continue with a designated NTO, he/she would lead the group, which critically would also include the Webmaster and the TDs (no tournaments without them).

DEVELOPMENT
This group would be responsible for the WBU's 'offer' to current and prospective bridge players in Wales. It would prepare and disseminate training materials. It would run events geared to club players and non-WBU members.

INTERNATIONAL BRIDGE
This group would be responsible for liaison with Bridge Great Britain. It would include the chairman of selectors; the international match manager; and whoever is designated as equipment officer (at the moment performed unofficially and unpaid by SG and TH). This group would be responsible for organising trials and running home internationals.

And that is just about it.

Incidentally, setting things out this way might help in setting Honoraria, which seem a bit arbitrary at the moment.

I am implying that the MC, which is in the Constitution, would delegate its responsibility to these groups, although perhaps continuing to meet (very) occasionally, as decided by the President.

I am not envisaging a specific role for the President. It would depend on where he or she felt able to make a contribution within the above structure. It's a rotating position and different Presidents will see their contributon in different ways.

Do we need a Chief Executive? Yes of course we 'need' one, in the sense of someone who can provide leadership across the whole organisation. That would be marvellous.

Anyway, this post is just about having a sensible structure.


Alan Screen

Thank you Gwynn, it is always encouraging to get constructive criticism and even better when accompanied by forward looking proposals. I hope the incoming MC will consider and perhaps persuade you to be involved in some way. The WBU is short of members with vision and ideas to progress that vision, and of volunteers!

Neville Richards

Well appraised Gwynn. I look forward to replies from our CEO and MC members, although that may be a long wait given the tardy way Minutes of their meetings are published.
Current membership 922 as of yesterday compared to 1390 last year.


'Today, a Cassandra is usually not held in high regard, though that is no reflection on the accuracy of the predictions but rather the fact that no one wants to face hard truths.'

Gilly Clench

Sadly there are only about 30 people who are signed up for this forum so it will not reach that many WBU members.

I think the proposal about working groups rather than the current construction of the MC sounds like a good idea.  I don't believe that there is a shortage of volunteers - I think there are many people who would happily give some time helping - it's just that currently each role is onerous.  I am sorry Alan thinks that my quitting has increased the problem, but no one else came forward to take on that role. I did not wish to continue, as nothing I tried to do seemed to carry any weight nor lead to any change. 

I suggested disbanding the Council as there is little relevance and I could not even find out who was on it for quite some time, combined with that, however, I suggested increasing the MC and inviting the whole membership to maybe four meetings per year to give their suggestions, make their complaints but get a dialogue going, so that the committee did not appear insular.  Nothing happened.

The cost of administration obviously has to change.  To pay out £17,500 for such a tiny organisation is ludicrous, especially as we no longer support our International representatives and have no money to support clubs or individuals.  I am not saying they do not deserve it, but these roles in Scotland, for example, are done by volunteers - for nothing.  If working groups were adopted, as Gwynne's proposal, then the jobs should be less daunting and people may agree to give up their time for nothing.  I asked all the people receiving their honoria if they would do it for less, or if they thought we could find people to do it for nothing, which is obviously the best solution.  No one would do it for less and we did not ask the members if anyone would help.  It is no good just putting something on the website, people need to be contacted and the MC needs to be more proactive in that role.

I failed in solving the problem of not having a complete list of members, but that must contribute to diminishing numbers in competitions as people often are unaware.  Simon and Steve have done such a lot of work on this but still we don't have one, which impacts on advertising and keeping in touch. 

I suggested splitting up the role of the CEO, getting someone to take on a secretarial role to do the minutes and organise meetings, maybe with another honoraria. (I disagree with Neville that this has been particularly tardy. Ceri does a great job organising the meetings and producing the minutes and there is a whole month in between meetings anyway). Someone to take on organising the Internationals - again for a fee (of even £2000 per weekend), which Ceri has had to do, but which Alan Stephenson resigned over as it was so much work.  Both of these would be less than the current cost, but would not take the WBU forward obviously.

The work Mieke has taken on recently with organising the women has been a breath of fresh air.  She has not asked for anything in return - it is just a love of the game and not wanting to see it fail in Wales.  There are people all over the place who would happily help if they could see where they could fit in, without having to commit too much time, nor having to face the flack that some roles attract.  I was happy to continue on the commitee, (though there had to be a vote about it) and now I won't be able to join in anywhere as I do not have a position, unless past president is extended.  Clubs and areas all have people working hard for the game, but maybe they could have a more prominent place.  Surely Gwynne could fit in somewhere!  We certainly need something to change.

Gilly Clench

Not all the clubs have returned their membership fees as yet so it should be higher later on.

gwynndavis

If these working groups are set up as suggested, I'd volunteer to be a member of the tournament group.

Simon Richards

Nice to see some sensible proposals from Gwynn, Gilly and others - hopefully the new Managemnt Committee can convert these into actions after today's AGM.