Friday, 9 December 2016

Key Question 1: does the Centre Director control SWYM or do its members? (Part 1)

(This is the first substantive post in this blog. I am making this in my capacity as Chairman of SWYM, the Society for Wessex Young Musicians.  Please see the Welcome post for disclosure and other important background.) (Comment added 1136 UK time on 11 Dec 2016: I have been asked to make clear that this is my personal view, and I am not speaking on behalf of the SWYM Committee. I am very happy to do this: as mentioned below, the Chairperson of an organisation has extra responsibility to the organisation's members to speak out if actions are being taken that appear to be against what they have voted for.)

The main reason for launching this blog is to try to resolve important questions of governance and culture within SWYM that have arisen in the last 3 months, but unfortunately have so far failed to be resolved internally. All Committee members are involved in governance matters, but as SWYM Chairman, I have a particular duty to try to ensure that as a body we operate in accordance with our Constitution, and to keep SWYM members informed about any significant issues that arise.

I shall try to keep things as far as possible to matters of fact. I stress that there is no disagreement about the musical aspects of the Centre, merely questions of governance/culture and what the boundaries are between what CWYM/College staff do and what SWYM is entitled to do.

The first key issue is that the director of the Centre for Wessex Young Musicians (CWYM) and the Wessex Youth Orchestra (WYO), Susanna Riddell, has claimed on several occasions that she (and she alone) has overall control of the Society.  For example in an email to the Committee dated 4 November 2016 (the bold emphasis is mine):

"The Society is not a governing body and as such has absolutely no authority over the CWYM Director or any of the multi-faceted running aspects of the Centre - which all, including supervision of the SWYM and it’s handling of the Centre’s finances, - fall to me and no one else."

While the first part of this sentence is correct, the bold part is directly contradicted by the Society's Constitution, under which the only mention of the CWYM Director is in paragraph 5 I d) which states that the Centre Director shall be an ex Officio (see note * below) member of the SWYM Committee:

There shall be an Executive Committee of the Society and this shall comprise:
      I.         Ex-Officio
a)     The College Principal or his representative
b)    The Director of the Creative Industries Faculty
c)     The Faculty Manager for Music
d)    The Director of the Saturday Music Centre and the Coordinator of the Saturday Music Centre
    II.        Ten other members of the Society, not less than five of whom shall be relatives of enrolled music students.

and (with regard to her claim about finances) paragraph 10 a) which states:

The Executive Committee shall be responsible for the overall financial control of the Society funds.

Despite repeated requests internally for evidence to support her claim to have complete control over the SWYM Committee, the CWYM Director has so far failed to provide any. In the absence of any evidence, it seems very clear to me that the Constitution implies that members control SWYM, through the Committee that they elect at the AGM each November.

This question is of fundamental importance to the operation of the Society, and it is right therefore that members be aware of it and that it be resolved as quickly as possible.  (For example, the CWYM Director has asked the Committee not to meet until further notice from her.)

I am therefore repeating my request (by informing the CWYM Director and the College - via email to Jacqui Kitcher, Director of Learning, Creative Industries - today of this blog and this post) for evidence so that this question can be settled ideally as soon as possible. I will post any replies here (or the CWYM Director/College are of course free to post comments directly on this blog).

Note *: an ex Officio member of a Committee is someone who is automatically a member of that Committee by virtue of his or her office, and - unless stated otherwise, which is not the case here - has exactly the same voting rights - no more or less - as any other Committee member.

(Update added at 1423 on 17 Dec 2016: this is part 1 of related blog posts, see here for part 2)


  1. *If* (as seems very unlikely in my view, particularly given the continuing delay in getting any supporting evidence) the CWYM Director does have complete power over the SWYM Committee, this would be not only anti-democratic (when did SWYM members ever agree to this in a vote?) but also totally contrary to principles of good governance. E.g. "People should be able to follow and understand the decision-making process." (2nd paragraph in

  2. When did this ever become a public debate? From what I know of the situation - and I don't have all the correspondence between the two parties involved- you were offered a meeting to discuss matters that you decided at the last minute not to attend. If you can't attend something you requested, why are you now re-hashing an internal matter in the public domain? I really can't belive this course of action will win you any friends or support.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Peter.

      I decided at the last minute not to attend because the meeting was billed to me as just with the CWYM Director and I found out late the night before (from someone else) that it was to be with others. It is not good practice to spring surprises on people. I offered to meet again with transparent details of agenda and who would be attending. I was asked for suggested dates and provided them, and then heard nothing more.

      It is a fundamental question of democracy and accountability to SWYM members - if someone claims such a degree of power (complete control, including that to veto meetings, veto items on their agenda, control what the money is spent on) without any constitutional justification (and continually delays providing any evidence to support their claim), then that seems to be anti-democratic and an abuse of power.

      As I point out in the above post, I have tried to resolve this internally for quite a long time, with no success. I am not doing this to "win friends and influence people", but I really feel a duty not to give in to continued demands which seem so against the constitution and what SWYM members voted for.

  3. And there you have the issue at hand. You have said that you don't have access to 'all the documentation' and are requesting in stronger and stronger terms that it be produced. Yet here you are saying you asked for further meeting (that no one else knew about, certainly not in my time on the committee) therefore any debate on here is flawed because no one has access to all that documentaion either! In my time on the committee (which I believe is exactly the same length of time as you have been chairman)I have never known any meeting or agenda item as having been vetoed by anyone. This course of action can only damage the centre, not enhance it.

    1. Thanks, Peter.

      Apart from UK law, the only documentation that matters for the governance of SWYM is its Constitution. If some other documentation contradicts this, then the current Constitution still applies until such time as it is amended. And why the secrecy and excessive delay in providing any such documentation? The College is committed to transparency and the any relevant excerpts could have been provided to the Committee weeks ago.

      I didn't send round copies of all the emails because most Committee members expressed a wish to avoid email overload.

      In an email to the Committee on 18 November the CWYM Director vetoed a meeting on 21 November (already postponed at her request from 18 November) and added "please as I have already asked - withhold planning another committee meeting until further notice.". That together with her claim to have complete control over SWYM, although couched politely, amounts to an order.

      I agree re damage to the Centre, which is why this fundamental question about governance needs to be resolved. It could and should have been possible to resolve it internally (by the CWYM Director producing evidence to the Committee to support her claim).

  4. You cannot cherry-pick your argument. The meeting that was asked to be postponed was a direct result of an accident that befell the co-ordinator and the meeting you mention was suggested as a 'we need to sort things out for the next concert' as the co-ordinator was not going to be available. It was not a planned meeting, rather one suggested by and agreed to by some of the committee themselves as a gesture to help. The Direcor then heard of it and asked that we did nothing because it was already in hand. At no time was the meeting vetoed that I can see, merely a request that we not hold it as things were happening that we were unaware of, so anything we did would be counter productive. If you see that as a veto, I'm afraid you and I see things totally differently. The original meeting you mention was postponed in an effort to have the situaton you are now writing about resolved before the committee next met. Then the accident happened, the extra meeting originally posited by the treasurer was discussed and that is the one that was asked not to happen because things were already happening. So in reality, the committee hasn't met since the meeting that was postponed in an effort to resolve your issue. It was not cancelled, nor declared not required, simply potponed.

    1. Thanks Peter.

      I don't think I'm cherry picking. The CWYM Director's email said "withhold planning another Committee meeting *until further notice*", she made quite clear that she didn't want the Committee meeting until she and I had had a private meeting together, then it turned out (late the night before) that the scheduled meeting was mainly to discuss different things (please see Jacqui Kitcher's email copied to you on 1 Dec), with "discussing any of your concerns" mentioned as a side issue. It was not at all clear that any documentation would be provided, and in any case why couldn't it be provided in advance - why the secrecy for an organisation publicly committed to transparency?
      The planned rescheduled meeting to resolve the situation seems to be in limbo.

      In any case, the CWYM Director's claim that she has overall control of SWYM would clearly entitle her to veto any Committee meeting or any item being put on the Agenda. That is totally unacceptable in my view, and I would never have accepted to become Chairperson if this claim had been put to me when I looked over the Constitution (as I did, making contemporaneous notes) before taking on the post in November 2012.

      Would current Committee members support amending the Constitution to include a clause such as "the CWYM Director will have the final say over the timings and agendas for any SWYM Committee members, and over any expenditure"? I would hope not. I certainly would not, and would oppose any such suggestion at future AGM, whether I were Chairperson or not.

  5. oops - I meant meetings not members: "the CWYM Director will have the final say over the timings and agendas for any SWYM Committee meetings, and over any expenditure" :) ...

  6. You are quite right, the committee was asked not to have another meeting until your issue with the Director was dealt with and hopefully resolved. The reason for that was to ensure that anyoutstanding issues or bad feelings on either side were resolved. The barrage of emails to committee members simply fed their feelings of 'why am I seeing this, I don't want this'. I don't believe those feelings are not going away, they are, in fact, increasing in intensity.

    Since the missed meeting, there have been two major concerts which required planning, phone calls, emails etc and attendences at various meetings, as well as the Directors professional and personal life, leaving very little time to attend to outside matters. I understand most if not all of the issue is now in the hands of the college anyway, so any problems over delay should be addressed to them not to anyone within CWYM, or the public domain.

    You then go on to say that by the Director claiming overall control it would entitle her to veto any meeting. As that has never happened, nor did it in this case, that is a moot point and can be dismissed from this point on. I don't believe the mention of discussing your concerns in the meeting arranged with the college was a side issue. From my reading of the email, the meeting was going to cover a lot of ground, ensuring that you, as chairman, were aware of the policies the college had in place and then to discuss any points you wanted to raise. Nothing in there sugests it falls in to the category of 'and finally' or 'any other business'. You are trying to impose your views on your understanding of the email without clarifying it, or attending the meeting to at least discuss the situation and whether there needed to be another meeting to fully develop any points raised. This is a very one sided, one-eyed approach and is failing to garner any support. You say you want to clarify this and sort it out. Meet with the College/Director/HR/whoever it is, and do just that. (In fact the mention of HR in the email was as a note taker, not a participant, so their presence at the meeting meant nothing). Discussing it all on here achieves nothing.

  7. Thanks Peter.

    You say most of the issue is now with the College - this question (of what evidence the CWYM Director has to back up her claim to have total control including of the finances) could and should be speedily resolved by the CWYM Director (or Jacqui Kitcher) emailing me (and hence the Committee) copies (or extracts or screenshots of the relevant parts) of the documents which she based her claim on.

    You're claiming that it doesn't matter if the Director has overall control because she has never exercised it. Even if that were true (it isn't: she also vetoed my putting a review of the SWYM Constitution and SWYM culture on the agenda), what you are saying amounts to accepting autocracy (which you *hope* will be benign) over democracy. And worse, an autocracy which pretends to be a democracy, and is currently hidden from SWYM members.

    While many of these points are interesting, they are to a large extent red herrings: the question posed in this post is a simple one of fact. Does the CWYM Director have any evidence to support her claim, or not? If she does, then, more than 5 weeks since I requested such evidence, she should provide it as soon as possible by email to me for the Committee to see, or ask the College to do so. If she doesn't, then she needs to acknowledge that her claim was based on a misunderstanding or mistake and we can then all move on.

    As I put in an email on 4 November to the Director and the rest of the Committee: "I am committed to doing the best I can as chairperson to make it possible for all members of the committee to contribute (in) as collegiate a way as possible, and in accordance with the Constitution and the interests of the children of SWYM members."

  8. I don't believe what I have written mentions anything as to whether the Director having overall control is a good or bad thing. I was willing to accept her statement and expecting you and her to resolve the matter amicably. I can't comment on any veto that may have been made as I don't have any correspondance on the matter, I can only say I am not aware of any veto being used. Then we get to the nub of the issue. This entire blog is all about your wanting to see a document. I say again, go to the meeting with the college and ask to see it. Why is that such a difficult thing to do? This could and should have been resolved weeks ago, but your refusal to accept anything, either on good faith until proven or by meeting with people is, as I have said before, doing nothing but alienating you from the rest of the committee - or at least that was my knowledge up to the point I resigned and your stance was the reason I resigned.

  9. Thanks Peter. As mentioned when you informed me and the other Committee members of your decision, I was sorry to learn of that decision and thank you once again for all that you have done for SWYM over the past many years (you have been a Committee member for at least as long as I have).

  10. Following a productive meeting at the College earlier today, I will post a short update blog post tomorrow, after I have had time to inform fellow Committee members first.