NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND OF THE UK
BRANCH SECRETARIES – BSEC-23-01
From: Andrew Hodgson, President
To: Branch Secretaries
Central Branch members
Date: 6th February 2023
Subject: Summary of Report from Independent Panel and Executive Council Decision
In line with our Constitution and Rules the EC is circulating a summary of the independent panel report concerning its management of our campaigns fund and on issues surrounding the abandonment of the presidential election last year.
You will recall that last year’s presidential election was abandoned due to questions which had been raised concerning the EC’s management of our Campaigns Fund. The EC consulted Russell-Cooke Solicitors, through a free service offered to us by the charity Visionary, of which we are a partner. We verified that there are no specific guidelines in law for setting up such funds and that the issue hinged on what we said to our members when the fund was founded. After checking our archives, we concluded that we had not defined what the Campaign Fund would cover in our communication with members (See BSEC-17-13 and BSEC-22-19).
Another reason for the abandonment of the presidential election was the behaviour of the candidate’s seeking election towards each other. In particular, accusations that had been circulated, on our open E group, concerning those candidates.
Because the EC was itself under attack concerning the use of the fund, we decided to appoint an independent panel to give their opinion on these issues. The panel reported at the end of last year and the EC has met twice since to give its decision in the light of their report. Karl Farrell, who was a candidate in the election, was not involved in the decision to consult a panel and did not take part in any of the EC discussions or meetings on this issue, including the choice of the panel, considering the panel’s report , related matters and what action to take.
The panel judged that: “The whole purpose of the Federation is to campaign, so any money donated to it is towards our campaigning” and also that: “We also agreed that it is reasonable for our Campaigns Officer’s landline and mobile telephone expenses, plus her other expenses, to be taken from the Campaigns Fund.” The EC has therefore been vindicated in its management of the Campaigns Fund, but we will discuss in future meetings how we can improve our financial management in light of the panel’s comments.
Management of the Election
The panel were of the opinion that some of the hustings questions shouldn’t have been allowed as: such events are “not the occasion for questions on the performance of the EC during the year. The Federation has other mechanisms for that. Hustings questions should either be about the candidates’ plans, priorities, hopes and aspirations or their qualifications, experience and knowledge.” However, we regret that the series of questions from Margaret Hutchison, a member of West of Scotland Branch, were omitted due to technical IT/ reasons and that it took a long time for them to be answered by email. The EC will take on board the comments of the panel concerning the management of questions for future hustings.
Conduct of Candidates
The panel reported that: “In the email correspondence submitted to us we noted that Karl Farrell was always courteous in his approach…”. However, the panel did note that there was a considerable delay before Karl answered outstanding hustings questions. The EC agreed with the panel that this long delay had fueled conspiracy theories, particularly in correspondence on the open E list and we would urge him to greatly improve on this in the future. However, we decided that no action needed to be taken against him.
The panel commented that Sandy Taylor in his email correspondence “often resorted to unpleasantness”. In this respect he was in breach of Rule H2 A & B in not affording Karl Farrell civility, dignity and respect. In addition, Sandy Taylor sent out a circular to all branch Secretaries accusing the EC of mismanagement of the Campaigns Fund, when Head Office, on the advice of EC officers, had refused this. The panel also were of the opinion that Sandy’s use of the open E list for “the dissemination of partisan allegations” was in appropriate in the middle of an election campaign. In view of these misdemeanors on Sandy’s part and in keeping with NFBUK Rule I 5 B the EC have decided to suspend him from taking part in national elections for 12 months, commencing on 19 January 2023, which was the date on which he was privately informed of this decision. We have reached this conclusion with regret, recognising that Sandy has played a major part in our campaigns, both locally and nationally, in recent years and that he has brought about the revival of West of Scotland Branch.
The Open E Group
The panel and the EC noted the part played by the open E Group in the above issues. Some time ago we set up an E list just for members and we acknowledge that in the future we need to do more to promote its existence. We would encourage that in future those wishing to discuss issues relating to NFBUK should use this platform.
It is hoped that this will proceed in the very near future.