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Allan Sim’s statement to SKC members

The following comments relate the facts of a situation, which led to the withdrawal of my Firm’s engagement with the Club, which has been carried out over nearly twenty seven years through the supply of my services as Secretary General and Treasurer and which situation also led to the resignation of the entire staff of the Club .

As part of a process agreed with the Finance and Administration Committee, I prepared and submitted a Review of Finance and Operations to the Committee.

The Review was presented to the Council, which considered it at a special meeting on 17th September. This took the form of group sessions, after which group spokespersons relayed some bullet points which were recorded at the time. Subsequently, as arranged, the bullet points were conveyed by e-mail to the office.

In respect of one of these groups, comments were made on the subject of the Club’s customer focus and these included the following bullet point, which had not been conveyed at the meeting:

At present, personal and general evidence exists of customers being met with disinterest at best, rudeness at worst and mis-information based on personal bias.
The above was received by Anna Fox and she submitted it to me.

I advised the Convener of my concern and expressed the view that this could have serious repercussions for the Club as follows: ‘At the moment, you face the prospect of your ‘ill-mannered’staff not being around shortly and if that is what some of them want, they may have a result. Frankly, I would be minded to join them’. I was also at pains to emphasise that, if there was evidence, this should have been made available.

The Convener replied ‘I was disappointed but not entirely surprised to read those comments. I have heard mutterings about the perceived level of service delivered by the office and the variety of topics on which they may be called upon to comment. You will be able to guess the source of the latter comment but the former has been made by more than one Council member. However, let’s not be downhearted. If there is such a perception, then that perception can be dispelled just as easily as it has been given credence.They must feel free to voice their concerns but then give examples of what they mean so that we can get better.’

I responded by emphasising again the strength of feeling among the staff but the reply was that it would be dealt with as part of the Working Groups which were not due to report finally until February, albeit an interim report was planned for December.

My response was ‘If the staff are ‘at best disinterested’, would you wish to wait five or six months before it is dealt with? I wouldn’t’. The Convener then agreed that we should not wait five or six months but without proposing alternative action.

I was concerned that ‘evidence’ had been turned into ‘perception’ and that an employment matter had been relegated to a working group which was essentially dealing with longer term issues.
I conveyed the convener’s response to the staff, following which Anna Fox felt she had no alternative but to submit a letter of resignation.

I held a meeting with the entire staff and conveyed a minute of that meeting to the convener along with a letter from my Firm. This outlined our concerns especially about the apparent unwillingness to treat this as a serious employment issue. It made it clear that the other staff were considering their employment options and I requested that the letter and minute should be advised to the Finance and Administration Committee for action.

Anna Fox agreed to let her resignation ‘lie on the table’, rather than let it be accepted at that point, in the hope that the Committee and Council would agree to deal with the matter as requested by me.

The Convener responded to my letter in writing, in the course of which he provided substantial personal criticism of my handling of the matter. He agreed to my letter being submitted to the Committee but with his letter also.

I queried the wisdom of submitting his own letter since it would open up to the Committee that there was substantial personal disagreement between us. My view, stated at the time, was that the personal issue could be resolved by discussion; however, the Convener insisted that both letters should go to the Committee.

I was excluded from the Committee meeting on 22nd October for the discussion of this item and their conclusion was that there was a ‘gross over-reaction’ and a ‘mis-handling of events’.

I was astonished that no mention of the matter was made to the Executive Council at a meeting that same day. It was normal practice to report business and seek approval for actions, but the staff matter was excluded from the Committee report by the Convener.

I was particularly surprised at this because the action decided by the Committee was to ask the Convener to ‘assess Council members’ perceptions of the level of service delivered by the office’. It would, at the very least, have been courteous to seek the Council’s approval for something involving them directly. I understand that it was carried out by means of a ten-point telephone survey; however, I only received a verbal review of the results from the Convener and I was not privy to the questions asked nor to the detail of the results.

In my view, a survey of ‘perceptions’ and of ‘Council members’ was not an adequate response to a criticism issued with ‘evidence’ and by ‘customers’.

I conveyed this view and my continuing concerns at a meeting with the Convener; however these were rejected and the conversation with regard to our personal disagreement was relegated to a few remarks as the Convener was leaving my office.

I advised the staff of the outcome of the survey, having previously conveyed to them the decision of the Finance & Administration to carry this out as their response to my letter.

I then intimated my Firm’s resignation, to be effective from 31st December. This was done by telephone to the Convener and subsequently in writing.

In the meantime, Gail Philips advised that she had been successful in seeking alternative employment, subsequently leaving on 8th December and Anna Fox’s resignation was accepted, to be effective on 23rd December.

On 12th November, I was advised by the Convener that a meeting of the Executive Council was to be convened for 26th November, a date which was completely unsuitable for me and about which there had been no consultation; indeed, I was advised simply to ‘be on the end of phone’ in case required.

The minutes of that meeting were taken by the Vice-Convener and they were substantially altered at a meeting on 17th December.

As I understand it, a key proposal adopted at the meeting on 26th November was that ‘the Finance and Administration Committee/Executive Council re-evaluate the current situation and deal with this matter again, we approach the Secretary General and the staff on what is decided and ask that they re-consider the situation and request that they withdraw their resignations either on a permanent or temporary basis until this matter is resolved’.

It was also agreed that the Convener would ‘convey the Council’s unreserved apologies to the staff’and that the President and Convener should meet with me.

The above decisions were not properly recorded in the original minutes and no action was taken other than to hold the meeting with me. At that meeting, no mention was made of this key proposal; indeed the Convener confirmed, in response to a question from me, that there was no possibility of going back to the beginning. Instead, I was advised of another proposal from the same meeting, adopted only on the vote of the Convener and Vice-Convener, that ‘whilst regretting the resignations, the Executive Council accepts the situation, puts the past behind them and moves forward together’.

On the matter of apologies, the convener issued verbal apologies to Gail Philips in the course of an unannounced visit to the office in my absence. (This had a hollow ring to it since it was a precurser to offering her the position of Office Manager). He subsequently gave an apology to Angela McCathie on another unannounced visit to the office but only after Angela actually asked if she was getting an apology. Anna Fox did not receive an apology. At the meeting on 17th December, the Convener was instructed to issue written apologies to each member of staff and I believe that these have still not been received.

Anna Fox was unable to continue with the Club after becoming distressed in the course of the Executive Council meeting on 17th December and receiving medical advice not to return to the office.

Angela McCathie left on 23rd December, having also found new employment.
The resignation of my Firm is now effective although I am currently following through an offer to prepare the Accounts for 2003, without charge.

Allan Sim