The BFBB’s press conference held at its headquarters in Barnsley on Monday afternoon may not have been held under the ferocious glare of the national media spotlight, but after 3 hours of robust question and answering, both sets of protagonists would have left for home with the odd scorch mark or two to sooth.
Arranged in response to the ongoing series of events that have engulfed the BFBB and the British Brass Band Registry over recent months, BFBB representatives fielded a series of far reaching questions from British Bandsman, Brass Band World and 4Barsrest.
BFBB Chairman Robert Morgan MBE laid out the organisation’s position through a prepared statement, which was read in full (and has subsequently been published on 4BR).
It dealt with issues surrounding the working of the British Brass Band Registry, the grievance procedure currently being followed over the Registry Manager Colin Johnson and the removal of Frank Hodges as a trustee of the BFBB.
After a short break, Robert Morgan MBE, Treasurer Nigel Morgan, Liaison Officer Terry Luddington, Sally Coleman, Shirley Woodward, Ray Sykes MBE and James Broadhead fielded questions from British Bandsman Editor, Kenneth Crookston, Brass Band World Director, Nikki Bland and 4BR Editor, Iwan Fox.
It proved to be a very open and at times vigorously contested session (with even some self deprecating humour from both sides of the table) , even though at its conclusion, some answers remained more opaque than others – perhaps understandably, or even deliberately so, given the unresolved nature of many issues raised.
BFBB Chairman Robert Morgan MBE
The damaging situation at the British Brass Band Registry was revealed as being increasingly fraught, complex and arguably in one alleged instance, bordering on criminal illegality.
When questioned on the possible breach of its own Data Protection Policy, the BFBB stated they had sought advice from the Information Commissioners Office.
Although they had not received confirmation in writing, they were confident that the current action they were taking (including staffing the Registry with volunteers) in processing band and player information was not in breach of either their own policy or the Data Protection Act itself.
It was revealed however that the locks to the BFBB offices had been changed, due in part to the allegation that post had been taken from the offices without authority - a matter that may well be taken further.
As to the BFBB’s own vision of how the Registry could be harnessed for the overall benefit of banding, it was stated that up to £10,000 had been earmarked for improvements, training and upgrading of the registry system to bring what it described as a ‘paper laden’ operation into the 21st century.
However, how that would ultimately benefit both players and bands was not specifically addressed.
The ongoing grievance procedure in respect to Registry Manager Colin Johnson was also revealed to be as equally complex and as frustratingly unresolved.
Although the BFBB did state it had a published Grievance Procedure (as well as a Health & Safety and Data Protection Policy) the exact date it was implemented was unclear – although the suggestion was that it was some time earlier in 2012, which superseded an earlier policy.
The BFBB now considered the grievance at an end, given the action they had taken. This had included the BFBB’s interpretation that Mr Johnson had refused the offer of ACAS led mediation to be held independently at the BFBB offices.
It was acknowledged that the Grievance Panel had confirmed that all issues raised from Mr Johnson starting from January 2003 had been addressed – including a period prior to any formal grievance procedure actually being in place.
It was also agreed however that Mr Johnson was within his rights to take further action.
As to the removal of Frank Hodges (right) as a trustee, the explanation was given that it was undertaken in accordance with the rules of the Charity.
There was no other reason other than the Executive had lost confidence in him due to his abandonment of his trustee duties under the terms of the BFBB constitution.
When questioned further about the appointment of new directors to BFBB Contesting Ltd, the BFBB stated they had acted in full accordance with company law.
According to the BFBB, it was undertaken by the sole shareholder (the BFBB) to ensure that BFBB Contesting Ltd could be run properly and effectively. Following the death of Peter Parkes only two directors had remained – Frank Hodges and Robert Morgan MBE.
Shirley Woodward, Gary Walzack and Arnold Tattersfield have since been appointed and registered as directors of the company.
The question of payments from the Brass Band Registry as part of their contribution to overall rental costs of the BFBB headquarters from 2006 onwards was less clear however.
As to what, when and how the Registry’s contribution was calculated and paid appears to remain unresolved.
Surprisingly, it was revealed that no formal written agreement for what was termed a ‘nominal amount’ had been put in place since 2006.
Pressing future for English Nationals
English National Championship
It was stated that the immediate future of the English National Championship is one that will hopefully be resolved as soon as possible – possibly with a statement at the forthcoming BFBB AGM.
Due to understandable personal circumstances, the BFBB was waiting on a full report on the 2012 event, future financial considerations and the outcome of possible new venues for the contest before a definitive decision could be made.
It was agreed however, that a decision would be made a priority.
As to the much publicised Business Plan of the BFBB and its key indicator to try and help establish a brass band in every postcode of the country – up to 1,200 by 2015 and 2,400 by 2020 – it was revealed by the Liaison Officer Terry Luddington, that in retrospect these were very much ‘headline grabbing’ numbers.
Pressed on what would be the realistic ambition for actual BFBB/Brass Bands England membership up to 2015, it was more likely to be around 50% of the 1000 or so bands the BFBB believes exist in England at present, with up to around 1200 or so by 2020 if the ambitious numbers are reached.
Current membership stood around 250 bands including youth bands.
Brass Bands England
Perhaps the most startling revelations of the press conference was the conformation by Robert Morgan MBE (initially stated in British Bandsman) that previous Annual General Meetings of the British Federation of Brass Band had not been held in quorum.
Under the BFBBs constitution that meant at least 10% of its members had to be present. It was confirmed that this had not recently been the case.
Although the Charity Commission was said to be ‘relaxed’ about quorum numbers with AGMs for organisations such as the BFBB, it was acknowledged that a strict adherence to constitution rules had to be in place for the forthcoming AGM in Birmingham on 28th August.
It will be at this meeting where the vote on the proposal for the dissolution of the BFBB to become Brass Bands England will be held.
Without a fully recognised quorum of members (at least 26 for the forthcoming AGM) it was stated that the AGM would not be allowed to progress and that the proposal for dissolution (which needs a two thirds majority of those present) could not be undertaken.
European Brass Band Championships
The BFBB stated it was anxious to play a leading role in the European Brass Band Association.
It did admit however that it may have been a mistake to forward the nomination of an inexperienced representative to stand for the EBBA Executive this year, although they will look at the situation again if future positions on the EBBA Executive become available.
The long distance hike from South Wales to Barnsley proved to have shed a welcome degree of illumination on the rather murky undercurrents that have drawn the BFBB into choppy waters of late.
What was crystal clear was that the very future of the BFBB/Brass Bands England as a truly representative body remains precarious to say the least - despite this robust, spirited and determined show of intent from the hard working group of members who had sacrificed a great deal of time, money and energy in making it to Barnsley themselves (some making a 600 mile round trip).
The forthcoming AGM in Birmingham may well be a watershed moment in its history.
If apathy reigns and the numbers do not turn up, the organisation simply cannot move forward. It needs to show the whole of the banding community in England that its future is both relevant and vibrant.
Even now, the future of the British Registry is perhaps out of the BFBB’s hands – its biggest customers seemingly seeking new approaches to 21st century registration issues.
The BFBB can survive without the Registry. It cannot survive without an active membership though.
The AGM may well be the final chance to show that the existing BFBB members believe so too.