BCS leaders win vote over transformation plan

An EGM called by members complaining about a lack of transparency in the trade group's efforts to transform itself has ended in victory for the leadership
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

The leadership of the British Computer Society won a crucial vote on Thursday, fighting off a challenge from a group of members who had criticised its transparency to members, especially over the management of a £5m transformation project.

At an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) held in London, about 75 percent of participating members voted against motions of no confidence in the chief executive of the BCS and its trustee board, the BCS said. In addition, a resolution to suspend spending on the transformation project until full financial details are disclosed was defeated by a vote of 62 percent.

Another motion put forward by the BCS leadership asking for support for its transformation plan was passed by 78 percent of the vote.

"We're delighted that three-quarters [...] voted in favour," said David Clarke, chief executive of the BCS. "It's a clear mandate."

Thirty-two percent of the organisation's 48,000 professional members took part — a record, and more than twice the typical turnout for meetings, according to Clarke.

The three reform motions were proposed by a grassroots group of members concerned about moves proposed as a part of the transformation project, including the restructuring of the organisation, which they feared could lead to members losing their voice in its affairs. The members who brought the motions could not be reached for comment.

The BCS is in the middle of a multi-million-pound transformation, which it has said will ensure the "advancement of information technology science and practice". One change under the project was to rebrand the organisation as The Chartered Institute for IT.

"One constantly repeated concern of member groups is the opacity of the BCS's decision-making processes. Information is hidden away, is not properly recorded, or is sometimes actively suppressed. It is extremely difficult to get a clear overall picture of what decisions have been made and by whom," the BCS reform group said in a statement before the EGM on Thursday.

Some members of the grassroots reform group are concerned by the BCS's direction, suggesting that the charitable body is more interested in commercial opportunities than representing its members' interests.

The dissenters also believe that the BCS is not being open enough about its spending decisions around the project. Clarke said as all decisions are vetted by the Trustee Board, there was "no question about proper management" in that area. He acknowledged that the BCS did not pass the details "down the chain" to the council, but said this was due to the need to protect the confidentiality of some information.

Clarke said that there are lessons to be learned by the BCS leadership from the events leading up to the EGM. "We have done a huge amount of communication with our members. However, looking at it now, we would have done it differently, with more consultation early on," he said.

The reform debate has prompted members to bring up a "whole raft of other things", such as how specialist groups in the BCS get their funding, according to Clarke. "We need to take measures to address those," he said.

Members of the BCS – The Chartered Institute for IT were able to vote electronically or by post if they could not attend the EGM in London.

The BCS Trustee Board put forward four motions of its own at the meeting, including a special motion to amend its charter to change the number of signatories required to call an EGM. Its proposal to raise the minimum from 50 signatories to two percent of the membership was withdrawn by the chair.

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