Complaint to ECF Board from Tim Wall


Tim Wall
8 Whitfield Road
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE12 7LJ
October 17, 2019

Board of Directors
English Chess Federation

Complaint to ECF Board about CEO Mike Truran re. Development Officer appointment

I am writing to the ECF Board because of the unsatisfactory reply I received from Robert Stern, Chair of the Governance Committee, on October 12, 2019 in answer to my serious concerns about the way the Development Officer appointment had been, and is being, handled.

In his cursory email, Robert Stern said the Governance Committee had refused to look into my complaint further, and did not address the key fact I put to him, that a document titled “Credo,” dated September 13, 2019, written by Carl Portman and posted on the ECF website on or around October 9, claimed: “I am delighted to have taken up the post of Development Officer for the English Chess Federation” – more than two weeks before the ECF Board was consulted on any such decision.

I am making my complaint about the actions of the Chief Executive, Mike Truran, but I regard the majority of the Board who voted at an October 12, 2019 Board meeting to uphold the September 29 email decision to appoint Carl Portman as also responsible, in that they ignored the evidence of Carl’s “Credo” document, which is a serious governance failure, failed to hold the CEO to account and upheld in a recorded vote what was a fundamentally flawed appointment.

Since the Governance Committee has failed to address what I regard as a serious governance failing, and inasmuch as the Board is bound by collective responsibility, this complaint must therefore be directed at the CEO as the individual tasked with implementing ECF Board decisions. While I would like to stress that this is not a personalised complaint, the buck has to stop with the CEO for a litany of governance failings that led to an unfair and non-transparent hiring process taking place, and therefore the complaint is primarily about the actions and conduct of the CEO.

Questions about ‘Credo’ document

I would point out that the ‘Credo’ document appeared with the ECF letterhead on it (as did the other two documents that Carl Portman posted on the ECF website). It therefore gives exactly the appearance of an official ECF document, stating that – as of September 13 (the date of my and Carl Portman’s interviews in Birmingham) – he had already been appointed Development Officer. This was despite the ECF Board not being asked to consider the recommendation of the interview panel until September 29. Then Board members took an email vote and decided by a majority – not unanimously – to accept the interview panel’s recommendation.

I would further note that Robert Stern’s purely verbal explanation – not written, mind – to me on the side-lines of the ECF AGM in London on October 12 about the “Credo” document and its dating was somewhat bizarre, to say the least. Robert said: “Carl told us he submitted that document at his job interview on September 13.”

But let’s examine that claim. Which job applicant submits a document to an interview panel, claiming that they already have the job? Is this not, at the very least, an extreme case of hubris – and potentially an indication to the interview panel that they should regard his or her appointment as already having been decided on a nod and a wink? And why would that document “submitted at the job interview” come with an official ECF letterhead already on it? It is clear this document raises all kinds of suspicions about whether the interview and hiring process was fair or transparent, or not.

Wider Questions about Entire Hiring Process

I would like to extend this complaint wider, however, to include the whole process of hiring the Development Officer, which began formally at the October 13, 2018 ECF AGM. A year later, at the October 12, 2019 AGM, I raised concerns about why it had taken the ECF Board nearly 12 months to carry out the hiring, and asked why it took the Board and the Chess Trust, who were in negotiations to fund the job from ECF & BCF funds, so long to do that. At the 2019 AGM, I put this in the context of Non-Executive Chairman Julian Clissold’s admission there that the ECF faced the prospect of “extinction” if it didn’t tackle its growing demographic crisis. In answer to my question that surely the Board should have moved ahead in a more expeditious and timely way with the appointment, rather than dragging its feet for a year, Julian replied that the appointment had to be done in a “careful and proper manner.”

Let’s note those words: “careful and proper.” I will come back to them later.

In the November 18, 2018 ECF Board minutes, it states: “Actions were agreed for Mike [Truran] to produce a draft job advertisement and circulate it to the Board, and also to ensure that [Finance Director] David [Eustace] was involved in finalising the remuneration arrangements before publication.”

After several meetings, the ECF Board and the Chess Trust finally reached agreement on how to pay the Development Officer’s £10,000 per annum part-time salary and advertised the post in June 2019 – more than seven months later.

Why it took so long for the ECF Board and the Chess Trust to make the funds for the Development Officer post available and for the post to be advertised is not entirely clear from the ECF Board minutes from that period.

In the minutes of the January 11, 2019 Board meeting, it states:

“9. Role of Development Officer and KPIs (MT [Mike Truran] verbal progress report)

The advertisement for the Development Officer role is currently on hold pending agreement for support from the Chess Trust. As noted in the Finance item, the ECF has written to the Chess Trust requesting that support. The letter includes KPIs for the Development Officer role. A response is anticipated by the end of January.”

And later in the minutes, it states: “It was noted that the ECF has already written to the Chess Trust asking for financial support for the proposed Development Officer role. MP [Malcolm Pein] proposed a motion that an initial transfer of £20k be made from the PIF to the Chess Trust for the sole purpose of funding the Development Manager proposal for the time being. The motion was passed by a majority vote.”

The minutes of the March 29, 2019 ECF Board meeting (fully five and a half months after the AGM) indicate that there was still work to be done on funding the Development Officer post, however, and that the decision to release the funds was still being held up somewhere – either in the ECF Board or in the Chess Trust board.

They state: “DE [David Eustace] outlined progress on the transfer of funds from the PIF to the Chess Trust. JC [Julian Clissold] confirmed that he had written to the PIF trustees requesting an initial transfer of £70.5k over the next three years. These funds would be made available to support International Chess, Women’s Chess and a Development Officer role. It was envisaged that the balance of the PIF funds would be transferred to the Chess Trust in due course once the success of the initial transfer had been evaluated.”

It is also not clear what the Chess Trust board was discussing over these several months, as the minutes of the Chess Trust meetings are not made public or available to ECF members – despite a good part of their funding specially earmarked for specific projects, such as the Development Officer role, coming directly from the ECF and the British Chess Federation PIFs.

Lack of Accountability of Interview Panel

A day after the Development Officer post was finally advertised on the ECF website on June 6, 2019, it was agreed at the June 7, 2019 ECF Board meeting that the interview panel would comprise three members of the Board: Non-Executive Directors Stephen Woodhouse and Julie Denning, and Governance Committee Chair Robert Stern. It was minuted at that meeting that the interviews would take place in July 2019, but in fact it took until September for them to take place.

It later transpired that the interview panel was changed, without any recorded decision by the ECF Board. Julie Denning and Robert Stern were replaced on the panel by a representative of the Chess Trust, Stephen Greep. Why this change was made was not clear, except that at the interview Stephen Greep told me he was there because “Chess Trust money” was being used to “fund” the post.

In fact, it is abundantly clear that the funding for the post originated with the ECF and BCF – the Chess Trust was merely the charitable conduit. Thus, it is not clear why a representative of the Chess Trust was needed or desirable on the interview panel. As the Chess Trust is not accountable to the ECF Board or the ECF membership, this change led to a lack of transparency and accountability in the appointment.

Indeed, I was told by both Mike Truran and David Eustace at the April 2019 ECF Finance Council meeting (in the debate on raising ECF membership fees) that, while they are appointed to the Chess Trust board as nominees from the ECF Board, they did not regard themselves as accountable in any way to the ECF Council for any decisions they make on the Chess Trust board. So, there is another level of non-transparency there, and trying to find out what discussions the Chess Trust is having, and why it makes its decisions regarding the fate of ECF and BCF money, is like waiting for a “dance of the seven veils” by Mike Truran and David Eustace.

What Role Did CEO Play in Interview Process?

Some background is necessary here. In his 2018 discussions with me, and I believe with other ECF directors, Mike Truran expressed the view that the Development Officer should restrict themselves to recruiting new members to the ECF and raising sponsorship and should be remunerated only for performing those tasks. He was extremely sceptical about the value of any wider “development” work, particularly about whether the ECF should be involved in any kind of social chess (i.e. non-competitive or ungraded chess games and events). A majority on the Board thankfully now seem to hold a much broader view of the tasks of a Development Officer, but it is not clear to me that Mike is completely in agreement with that strategy.

Immediately after the October 2018 AGM closed, Mike Truran assured me there and then at the Ibis Hotel in Birmingham that he wished to proceed quickly to the appointment of the Development Officer, that he wished me to stand for the post and hinted that he would support my candidacy.

However, subsequent events would suggest that Mike actually sought to delay that appointment, despite the urgency of the task of developing grassroots chess amid a rapidly ageing ECF membership and the need to involve many more younger people before the older generation of ECF members simply drop out of playing and organising activity. 

Exactly why Mike Truran and David Eustace (in their dual roles as ECF directors and trustees of the Chess Trust) presided over such a long delay in advertising the post is not clear. However, I would simply note that no one else apart from myself appeared to show any interest in taking on the job of Development Officer before the summer of 2019.

After Carl Portman put his name forward as a candidate for Development Officer this summer, he told me at the British Championships in Torquay in late July that he thought the job was “too big,” as described in the Development Officer paper I had written a year before.

Carl’s view at that time tallied with his subsequent “Statement,” dated more vaguely “October 2019” and posted on the ECF website on or around October 9, 2019, in which he wrote that he would only work in a smaller number of fields: “The three key areas I have agreed with the CEO to work on are Social Chess, Junior Chess and Women’s chess.”

If these areas are interpreted strictly as recruiting more ECF Supporters, Junior ECF members and female ECF members, then it would appear that Mike Truran is again trying to restrict the role of the Development Officer to largely that of a salesperson – but this time, without the fundraising role.

In the “Statement,” Carl said (contrary to his claim in the “Credo”) that he had not yet taken up or agreed a starting date for the job. He also wrote that he would report directly to the CEO, with no mention of working closely with other responsible directors.

This is fundamentally at variance from the job advertisement posted on the ECF website in June, which specifically said the successful applicant would “work closely with the Directors of Home Chess, Women’s Chess, Junior Chess and Education and International Chess.”

The job ad also included fundraising and training for local organisers as part of the role:

“The Development Officer’s main areas of responsibility will be – Assisting with the revival of grassroots chess; training local organisers*; bringing more juniors into local clubs; promoting social chess and community events; encouraging chess organisations to recruit more children and young adults; supporting new formats of events aimed at bringing a wider layer of players into organised chess; raising chess’s public profile;* and assisting the ECF with national and local fundraising*.”* [My emphasis].

In addition, in the detailed paper I wrote (at the request of Mike Truran and International Director Malcolm Pein) as long ago as summer 2018, titled “How a Development Officer can help English chess,” which was referred to as the job “specification” in the June 2019 job ad, it clearly states that the Development Officer would also report to other relevant ECF directors.

These changes “announced” to the role indicate that Mike Truran appears to be not only trying to single-handedly control the work of the Development Officer, to the exclusion of other directors, but that he is trying to impose his own, somewhat narrower, interpretation of what the job entails.

Why did Carl Portman write in his “Statement” on the ECF website that the job parameters were markedly different from those in the job ad and specification? Was it because Mike Truran discussed these revised parameters with him before the September 13 job interviews, and perhaps also while Carl was considering standing for the post, before the British Championships in Torquay? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then these actions would represent serious interference by the CEO, affecting the fairness and transparency of the whole hiring process.

I am further concerned by the revelation (confirmed to me by two reputable, independent sources) that Stephen Greep, the Chess Trust interviewer, stayed at Mike Truran’s home in Oxfordshire on the night of September 12, before the Development Officer interviews in Birmingham on September 13, and that it is claimed that the subject of the job interviews did not come up between the two of them. That would be a very impressive Chinese Wall indeed, if it in fact existed.

In conclusion, it seems to me that the actions and conduct of the CEO in respect of the Development Officer appointment, which was subsequently upheld by a majority of the Board on October 12, 2019, fell far short of the professional standards expected of his position.

It further seems clear to me that the process of hiring a Development Officer was not fair or transparent, and neither was it “careful” or “proper,” as Julian Clissold claimed. Indeed, the documents posted by Carl Portman on the ECF website – whether we view them as careless, hubristic, or worse – clearly indicate that he was given to understand by someone in the know that he had the job sewn up before the interviews took place.

I would like to request that an independent investigation is carried out into these matters of fact and questions that I have presented to the Board, and that the conclusions reached are made public. I would expect that this complaint is heard by a director or directors who were neither involved in the September 13 job interviews, nor voted to uphold this fundamentally flawed appointment at the October 12 Board meeting.

To ensure the transparency of all subsequent events related to the Development Officer appointment, I am circulating this letter to my colleagues in the national UK and chess media.

Yours sincerely,

Tim Wall