The Council Meeting
As one of your representatives I attended the Central Council Meeting in Kingston-upon-Hull on Monday 25th May.
The meeting was just as it has been for many years (I went to my first in 1994, so getting the hang of them now). Familiar people milling about; get name badge; discover our other rep, Andrew Gunn, had tendered his apologies; find seat; look through papers placed on seat and get meeting papers (which I've already read through!) out ready; at 9.30pm it kicks off. The President, Chris Mew (and incidentally a member of the Four Shires Guild) is in the Chair.
I have to say the size of the meeting regularly amazes me. There are roughly 200 people attending, so the meeting must not only be difficult to manage, but does it really need this many people either to rubber-stamp the workings of the committees or to get something done? The vast majority of representatives say nothing — and sadly a large percentage of the reps do not belong to any of the Committees (which is where the real CC work is done). Perhaps they like wearing CC membership as a medal: being elected a rep is sufficient to show they've 'arrived'. Nothing more required of them. Sorry; being cynical….
The CC's accounts came and went, happily without comment: all agreed. After this there are usually some proposals to consider, one of which this time was to move the Meeting to September. Arguments for and against were made, but the proposal was lost by a large majority.
This year there was a big break from tradition in having reps forming seminars allied to geographical areas. The object of these was to discuss the future of ringing, ie what are we going to do the increase the number of ringers? A paper on this had been circulated to all reps some weeks previously. The FSG straddled the West Midlands and the South West Groups, but we were placed in the W. Mids. As a group we were asked what our organisations did badly, what they did well and what measures could be taken to solve problems. We had to write our comments on post-it notes and stick them on wall boards. With the Guild on something of a high at the moment (membership rising and the Saturday practices being well attended) it was difficult to think of anything that we are obviously doing wrong. In contrast, it was difficult not to gush over what we are doing right. When it came to 'Do you organise any cross boundary activities?' well, what could I say except 'yes — regularly; and successfully, too.' After all this the comments were collected and have now been reproduced in a general document for further consideration. I do think, however, that this part could have been done better. I think it would have been very useful to know the questions beforehand, so more considered answers could have been submitted. Perhaps they wanted us firing from the hip.
First thing after lunch is always the AGM of the Ringing World Ltd. The Ringing World is having a bad time at the moment. It's losing money because of dwindling subscribers. There has been much discussion about what the RW Board can do to stem this decline. There might be charges for peals and quarter peals; it might become a fortnightly paper. The Board were charged with discussing the situation further and implementing proposals. I do think the present Board have been really good in sounding a warning loud and clear about what is happening, something that may not have happened in quite this way previously. The Chairman, Nigel Orchard, is a 'good egg' (he and I rang regularly together in 1969-70) and will, I firmly believe, do everything that can be done.
The afternoon continued with the reports of the CC Committees. These are sometimes updated by the chairmen at the meeting. The reports are open to questions, and some questions are asked. Many reports go through on the nod. There is now a rolling election process to the committees, wherein one-third of the members are elected every year. Are the committees overflowing with reps fighting to get on them? I wish…!! It saddens me to say some committees do not have their full quota; and one can only assume from this that many reps are very happy to do nothing at all. The committee of which I'm a member (the Towers & Belfries Committee) has always been oversubscribed for potential members, but this year there were only three proposals for the four vacancies, so we are one person down, the first time in 20 years to my knowledge. I really do believe the Council is too large. Its size allows people to 'hide in the corners' much too easily.
From the committee reports it's usually a smooth-run down to the end, and so it was this time. Is the CC a good idea? Yes, it is, but I do think serious changes are required. Personally I would halve the number of reps, but charge twice as much for each, thereby maintaining the CC's income. Hopefully this would reduce the 'passengers' who just want to wear the medal, and also reduce the ability to hide in the corners. My own view is you become a rep to work, but that thinking may be too severe for some! This week's RW (26th June) carries a most interesting letter from somebody who was lambasting the Council. He said: 'I was not surprised to see in your last issue that at length someone has plucked up courage enough to tell the Central Council that they are mere time-wasters. Year after year they sit in solemn enclave. The talking is done by a few who have views to air on some crank scientific subject which not one ringer in a hundred understands, and not one in a thousand cares a snap of the fingers about. … In my own association I know the members feel strongly on the subject of the waste of money in sending a number of delegates to a meeting at the other end of the country to sit and listen while half-a-dozen folks talk of things which are of no use interest or use to ringers at large. …. I read your report of the Meeting in London on Whitsun Tuesday from end to end most carefully, and if ever 75 men spent a day doing nothing — many of them at somebody else's expense — the Central Council, in my opinion, did so on that occasion. Yours truly, A Country Ringer' Hang on though, the Meeting wasn't in London, and the meeting wasn't on a Tuesday. And there were more than 75 present: women too. Oh, I see; the letter was dated 25th June 1915…!
It is clear CC problems of this type have existed for at least a century, so some extreme solutions do seem to be long overdue. Should the Guild be part of it? Yes, without doubt, because it does good work behind the scenes (but it could always, of course, do more…having more reps signed-up to work would be useful…); and because you've got to be in it to push for those changes.
The opinions expressed here are obviously my own. It is possible that my fellow representative, Andrew Gunn, may disagree with them. I am of course aware that the President of the CC is likely to see these views, but I would not ask him to respond to this article via the Newsletter, although I hope Chris might talk to me about it in the pub sometime!
(PS: I don't claim expenses from the Guild to attend these meetings.)