Council had a full house for its Saturday morning Zoom session on 16th May. Meeting frequency is likely to reduce as the lockdown eases further and members get back on the lawns. However, Council is resolved that croquet administration should no longer close down completely for six months of the year, as it has tended to do in the past.
Jonathan Isaacs, the Chairman, opened the meeting by giving a broadly positive review of the first eight months of the new Council. He felt that it had largely followed its mandate of developing high-level policy, strategy, scrutiny and transparency, and had done well to get to grips with some new tools, such as Trello and Zoom. ,It did, however, have to guard against the temptation to procrastinate, on one hand, or micromanage, on the other, recognising that most of those involved in running croquet were volunteers, who deserved respect. He stated that at times we found it difficult to distinguish between strategy and implementation. He urged Council to self police and, where we strayed over line, speak and ensure that the strategies are passed onto the Executive Board and its committees for implementation. The Executive Board has had a more difficult start, but the plan was always to get the new Council up and running first, then focus on that. However, he was particularly pleased with the efforts of the Marketing and Communication team and Coronavirus Task Force as examples of what could be done when individuals work well together and were given their head to get on with the job. He ended by thanking all those involved with Council, the Executive Board and its Committees for their work during a tough time.
Ian Burridge reported that his current prediction was that the financial outcome for the year should not be significantly worse than the budgeted deficit, thanks to fortunate timing, receipt of a £10,000 Small Business Grant, savings on meeting costs and better than anticipated shop sales. There had been little call on the Coronavirus Emergency Support fund. However, the outlook for 2021 was less encouraging and we had yet to tackle the underlying deficit.
Ian Vincent had, as requested, drafted amendments to the Constitution for Council to propose to the AGM (in whatever way we can hold it). Most were agreed as being uncontroversial housekeeping, but it was agreed that the proposed dissolution clause needed further thought.
Roger Staples had circulated a comprehensive report from the Executive Board, most of which was for information. Its main proposal was one to restructure the Board to have six Directors, three of whose portfolios would cover the CA's sporting activities, the other three its administrative functions, with a recommendation that the Directors should be appointed following an open recruitment process. The substance of the proposals had the unanimous support of the current Executive Board, and were accepted in principle by Council. However, there was a dissenting voice on the Board who objected to the protocol that required Council approval of this proposal. It was recognised that the review of the Standing Orders and Practice Book needed to happen in order to resolve the procedural issues.
Samir Patel then took the floor, to tidy up the loose ends arising from the previous consideration of the Marketing & Communications, Efficiency and Technology reviews. Two of the outstanding recommendations of the Efficiency group were passed to the Executive Board for action, but the one to clarify levels of authority for taking decisions, spending and budgeting needed a group to look at it, and would require changes to the Standing Orders and Practice Book. A group of recommendations from the Technology review concerning support for and resilience of our infrastructure were accepted as being important and also passed to the Executive Board for action.
The other recommendations that had not been selected for immediate action will be noted for review in November 2021, on the ground that there are almost certainly higher priority topics in other areas.
Three new working groups were in various stages of formation: one, chaired by Ian Burridge, to look at membership issues; one, which Jonathan Isaacs was prepared to chair unless he can find a suitable alternative, to look at competitive play and recruitment; and one, chaired by Ian Cobbold, to look at the role of the Federations.
The longstanding issue of finding a successor to Dave Kibble as webmaster had been progressed by a group led by Samir Patel identifying eight component tasks and the relationship between them. It was agreed in principle to appoint a Public Relations Lead who would have an overview of the CA's communications, and attempts will be made to recruit volunteers to the more specific roles where vacancies existed. Having established that we need PR at both national and local level as part of the Marketing and Communications Strategy, it was agreed that the implementation of this role was a matter for the Executive Board.
The Awards Scrutiny Committee's recommendations were accepted. A Bernard Neal Award for Exceptional Services to Croquet, funded by a very generous anonymous donation, will be instigated as a second major Council Award, to fill the current gulf between the Council Medal and CA Diplomas.
Looking to the future, the recommendation of the Nominations Committee, following consultation with Council members, that Samir Patel be appointed Vice-Chairman Designate was accepted enthusiastically (though acclamation by applause doesn't work well when muted in a Zoom call!). Roger Staples also agreed to continue as Chairman of the Executive Board pro-tem, and the two Ians (Burridge and Vincent) to be nominated for (re-)election at the AGM. However, the latter has been in post for twelve years and so felt that thought should be given to finding his eventual successor, with a view to a significant handover period, assuming that a similar role will still be needed following incorporation and/or becoming a charity.
It was noted that the Efficiency review group had circulated recommendations to cut down on the number of e-mails circulating (the Chairman and other Officers were in danger of being overwhelmed by over 250 a day), whilst ensuring that people received the information they needed. They could possibly be encapsulated by the phrase "think before you send"!
Finally, the Chairman urged everyone to move forward with an air of positivity and eradicate signs of negativity at all levels of the CA's function. The meeting then finished in time for lunch and, for some, the prospect of dusting off their mallet in the afternoon.