Members Reflections on Special Meeting
Reflection on the Special Meeting – IMechE 21/05/2018
The first member-called Special Meeting in 170 years was certainly a unique occasion. Some have compared it with the Brexit vote, but in effect it is hopefully much more about lessons learnt, and much less binary in its effects. Brilliantly and impartially chaired, the messages from the members were clear even through the apparent contradiction in the votes, in that the Trustees’ inserted “Blocking” motion insisting that all is well was carried, as was the motion by the Past Presidents that stated the governance of the Institution has failed. Demonstrably the latter was true, or there would not have been a call for the Special Meeting in the first place. “ The Institution is its members”, as we were reminded, and it is clear that the members’ voices have not been getting through, with neither TSB nor Council proving effective.
The third motion carried was the call for an independent financial review, the need for which was acknowledged by the Trustees before the vote. Some may consider it a shame that this had not been done months earlier when the need for it was first expressed. Hard-pressed Divisions, Groups and Branches, who have all lost resources, events, and control, simply do not accept that all is well, and the doubts were well expressed, a budget for two cups of coffee in Australia, and a thriving Hong Kong community that did everything without centre support being the highlights from the floor. This was not a London-based or narrow group in action, but vocal representatives of a wide constituency.
There was some sympathy for the Trustees, marred by some of their supporters throwing rumour and false allegation at the President. This was both unnecessary and unedifying, breaking the professional code of conduct that we should live by. The rotation of Trustees through election in accordance with the bye laws means that few of them were around when some of the more questionable decisions were made. This shines a light on the importance of leadership, and the support for the incumbent President from their colleagues so as to deliver a consistent multi-year framework for the Executive. This has clearly fractured and has fuelled an opportunity for the senior executive to step beyond their role. This role is not to lead and insist, but to deliver options and analysis, then implement the considered will of the Trustee with competence. There is more than one way to improve the world through engineering, more than one response to the Uff report, more than one commercial strategy, and more than one way to motivate and engage the membership while moving forward. Failure to debate options, to genuinely consult and the subsequent poor implementation of flawed concepts is at the heart of the expressed unrest.
So no individual was handed the red card on the night, but the closeness of the voting and the recognition that governance has failed meant that some strong messages were delivered. Senior Trustees made public their commitment to consult, to take member views into account, and include strong action to restore governance in line with the constitution. These promises were not given lightly, and those who made them now deserve an opportunity to deliver in a spirit of cooperation that has been beyond some recently. At least 3000 voters will be looking closely.
On a point of order raised powerfully not by one of the requisitioners but by another Past-President, the President, on advice, decided that none of the votes could be considered as binding on the night. This was due to the arrangements for voting being questionable to say the least – members being given instructions on which way to vote on the paper! Even dictatorships do not normally do this, silencing the opposition is usually enough. A return to ethical behaviour, natural justice, and the rules of the Institution will provide a stronger way forward. Let us all work to make it happen.