When a new Code of Governance issued by Sport England came into force in April last year, there were obvious implications, across all sports, for national governing bodies. In order to obtain or to keep government funding, the Code required compliance with three standards of governance, namely:
- Making sure that organisational Boards act as ultimate decision-makers
- A commitment to greater diversity, including a target of 30% gender diversity on Boards
- Greater transparency.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has responded by taking steps to reduce the size of the Board, and to ensure its appointment process and term limits of directors are compliant with the code.
What is now becoming clear is that the ECB is looking to the 18 first-class counties to fall in line with the Code.
Failure to comply may well jeopardise future match allocations. This could be especially damaging to a large club like Warwickshire, which relies on a steady supply of international and domestic big events to fill Edgbaston Stadium and keep the club solvent.
Not surprisingly, changes to Warwickshire’s constitution are on the table for the club’s Annual General Meeting.
Ex-banker Norman Gascoigne is very clear that pressure from the ECB is far from the only reason for the changes that will go to a vote of members later this month.
“When I came onto the Warwickshire Committee in 2004, there were many fellow members who had been there for 20 years. 30 years was not uncommon; and neither was 40 years on the committee a rarity.
Apart from a requirement to retire at age 70, there was nothing to stop members from being re-elected time and time again.”
Norman highlighted the case of the late Kim Jones, who stood for election to the Committee in 2009. Kim was a passionate Bears supporter, a successful businessman, qualified as both a lawyer and an accountant. He was also the founder and owner of Spin cricket magazine. With that CV, he should have been a shoo-in. But against incumbent members, Kim got nowhere.
Since then, no-one has stood for election against existing members of the committee.
Some steps have already been taken to bring in new blood.
“In 2014, we began appointing directors with specific skills,” said Norman. “Naz Khan gave us an insight into the Asian community; and Mark McCafferty, who runs Premiership Rugby, also broadened our skills base.”
Under the latest proposals, however, more drastic changes are on the table. The existing Club Committee and its Management Board will be scrapped and a new Board set up. Alongside this will be a Members Committee that will promote the views of members.
Two of the 10 Board members will come from this Members Committee. In addition, three Directors will be elected by the membership and there will be three Appointed Directors plus the Chief Executive (Neil Snowball) and the Chief Operating Officer (Craig Flindall).
There will also be a member representative on each of the Nominations Committee, Audit, Cricket Audit and Remuneration Committees.
How will the Club ensure that the Board has the right mix of skills and also is suitably diverse in background?
“We will set up a Nominations Committee,” says Norman, “that will look at all proposed appointments to the Board to ensure that we have the appropriate skill mix. It will also take account of the needs for diversity of gender and ethnicity.”
These changes, if agreed, should bring the Club much more in line with that new Code of Governance. This will please the ECB and others too, as Norman explained.
“We have received £20 million of funding as a loan from Birmingham City Council. If we wanted to change the terms of the loan, the Council might well be compelled by the government to ensure that we pass the governance test.
“Any county looking for public sector funding is likely in the future to be required to comply in this way. That’s why Glamorgan made some changes last year; and we are doing so now.”
And then there’s the BBC.
“You will have seen that the BBC is part of the new ECB media deal,” said Norman. “As a public sector body, the BBC may well look at how ECB members are governed. So that’s another reason for complying with the Code.”
Alongside all of this is the need, regardless of the Code, for the Club to move with the times and be run well by modern standards.
“It’s part of the broader issue of having in place the best quality of management. When I joined in 2004, the Club turnover was around £5 million. Now it is £17 million. In 2019, with the Ashes and the World Cup, it is likely to hit £20 million. That’s big business
“And members deserve the best quality management that we can provide. You can argue that that’s what we are paying the Club’s executives for. But any executive worth his salt is going to look around and say ‘Have I got the support of an effective non-executive board here, because if not, I’m not sure I want to be exposed to the risk that creates.’”
“There’s an ethical element to this,” explained Norman, “You have only to look at other sporting bodies – think of the racism and bullying accusations at the Football Association – plus the whole issue of gender equality.”
All of this seems to make sense. But when it comes to change, logic is not always persuasive. There are Warwickshire members who have used the term “power grab” and who have claimed that the changes will make annual Club membership nothing more than a season ticket rather than a true membership.
Deep Extra Cover’s Terry Wright challenged Norman Gascoigne on this.
“What powers will members still have? Let’s suppose, entirely hypothetically,” said Terry, “that the ECB proposed to scrap the County Championship and replace it with a 10 overs a side competition. The members would for sure be up in arms in opposition to this; but what if the word from Edgbaston was that the Club would support the proposals? What could the Members do now (under the existing Club rules) to change the Club’s line; and what will they be able to do if the governance changes go through?”
“There won’t really be any difference,” replied Norman. “In both situations, the higher of 250 members or 5% of the club membership would be needed in order for a Special General Meeting to be convened. At the meeting a proposal could be put forward for a vote of no confidence. Or a resolution could be raised for the Board to vote against the ECB proposals. If the resolution was passed, the Board would be bound by it.”
So there we have it: Warwickshire members have the opportunity to hear more about the proposed constitutional changes at a special forum on 19 February in advance of the Annual General Meeting and the big vote on 28 February.
In view of the implications for the future governance of county cricket generally, there is little doubt that supporters of other counties will be looking with interest at the voting figures that emerge from Edgbaston at the end of the month.