The BFI Board of Governors

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The British Film Institute is overseen by a Board of Governors. The Board can have up to 15 members [including a chairman) and most of them seem to be distinguished members of the Establishment. Their functions are set out in the Royal Charter of the Institute. Their appointment is proposed by a sub-committee of the Board: it has in the past advertised such vacancies. The Chairman has to be approved by the Secretary of State for Media, Culture and Sport. It was the case that Governors had to be approved by the UK Film Council but since its demise it is not clear if there is requirement for any approval beyond that of the Board.

There are also two member Governors, elected for a period of three years. The member Governors date from an earlier time when there was a large, angry meeting of members at the National Film Theatre: and expression of serious discontent with the running and organisation of the BFI. These Member Governors are elected by a combination of paid-up members of the BFI and subscribers to the Institute’s journal Sight & Sound. The latter is necessary as these days BFI membership is only worthwhile if one is resident in London or visits it regularly.

For the last few elections the Board has introduced a quota requirement on these elections: 10% of the electorate.  The only other area of British elections where I can think of quota requirements are the Trade Unions: which speaks volumes about the values of the Board members. The recent elections for Police Commissioners, for example, had no minimum requirement regarding the proportion of people voting. The BFI, like the Commissioners, administer public funds, so this would seem the relevant parallel.

The most recent election of a Member Governor was in the autumn of 2013. The result was as follows:

Dear Candidates,

As you are aware, voting for the election of a new Member Governor recently closed. The number of votes cast was commutated as follows as follows:

CANDIDATE

VOTES

% OF VOTES CAST

% OF TOTAL ELECTORATE

Karim NATHAN

333

21

1.1

Gerald FOX

304

19

1

Jason WOOD

303

19

1

Stephen KLOPPE

192

12

0.64

Francis BENNETT

161

10

0.53

Keith WITHALL

135

8

0.45

David MILLER

109

7

0.36

Duncan WHEELER

85

5

0.28

Total Number of Votes Cast

1,622

Percentage of Electorate

5.4%

Article 13 of the rules for electing a BFI Member to the Board of Governors requires 10% of the electorate to participate in the election. In circumstances where this is not the case, as in this instance, the election will be null and void. The Board of Governors will then determine how to fill the resulting vacancy.

I will contact you in due course to advise you of the determination of the Board.

Kind Regards     Iain Thomson  Board Secretary.

I have not seen any other communication on this topic, even as a voter. However, the minutes of the Board do contain further information. Following on from this at the October Meeting the Board members considered the election result and decided as follows:

a. Not to appoint the winning candidate in the BFI Member Governor Election 2013 owing to insufficient participation of the electorate and lack of a representative mandate;

b. To withdraw one of the two positions reserved for Member Governors on the BFI Board;

c. That the Nominations and Appointments Committee recommends a candidate to

the Board to fill the subsequent vacancy.

The above is recorded in the Minutes of the Meeting. The minutes are available online. However, the most recent minutes of those of the October Meeting though meetings are usually monthly. I should add that the only circular or reported information that I have seen from the BFI only records item a.: there appears to be no mention of items b. and c. anywhere.

A friend who is a member checked the Members’ pages online – and found a notice that I have not seen. It reported on the Election and ended with the following.

At a recent Board meeting it was determined that the vacant position of a second Member Governor will now be filled through the normal appointments process. A further vacancy will arise next year and the Board will decide on a course of action at that point.

It is likely that most readers of this will not realise that the ‘normal appointment process’ means what is actually recorded in the minutes.

In fact there is an information deficit on the Board. The minutes regularly exclude items on the grounds of confidentiality, though it is not clear what such items might be.  There is sometimes information available on the Notice Board at the National Film Theatre. There are occasional Press releases, mainly about additions to the Board. I have not found any Press release about the withdrawal of one of the Member Governors.

The information on meetings is fairly brief. The meetings are attended by the Chief Executive, the Deputy Chief Executive, the Director of Finance & Resources, the Board Secretary and occasionally by other managers for particular items. Voting, if it occurs, is not recorded: neither is any individual comments or indeed if there are disagreements. So it is not possible to tell if the decisions on the Member Governor post were unanimous or not.

This raises a question for the remaining Member Governor, Peter Kominsky, who was in attendance at the October meeting. Did he question these proposals on behalf of the voters? Certainly there appears to have been little or no reporting back on the issue by him. There may be something on the Members section of the BFI website, but this is not accessible to Subscriber voters like myself.

In fact, there appears to have been little interaction by most Member Governors with their electorate in recent years. Apparently there is, or was, the notice board for this purpose outside NFT 3. At one point there was an opportunity for report back and comments at the National Film Theatre, but this was on a Tuesday evening so of limited access. I have also on a couple of occasions written to the Member Governor about issues. On one occasion I copied these to the Board Secretary and he confirmed these had been passed to the Member Governors. However, I never received a response. The honourable exception to this was the Member Governor who term ended last year, Cy Young. He was the most active representative in my experience with the Board. He told me that he had questioned the 10% quote rule at the Board Meetings. It seems that he received little support, even from his fellow Member Governor.

It is worth noting that in 2013 the Board approved five new members. These included three described in this Press release:

The BFI announced the appointment of three new members to its governing board on Friday (3 May).

Pat Butler, Charles Cecil and Oona King attended their first BFI board meeting the previous week (25 April) together with the eight existing governors, BFI chair Greg Dyke and the institute’s CEO Amanda Nevill.

In a statement Dyke said: “We are very pleased to have three such talented individuals join our board. They each bring a wealth of experience, from finance and management, politics and broadcasting, to the video games industry.

“With such a team the board is well equipped to face the significant opportunities and challenges in the years to come in supporting the BFI’s growth agenda and international strategy for film.”

The BFI also announced that Libby Savill – who has served on the board for two years – has agreed to become the BFI’s new deputy chair. According to Dyke, “Libby combines pragmatism with one of the best legal minds in the entertainment industries and she is a great asset to the board”.

Introducing the BFI’s new board members

New member Charles Cecil MBE has been a leading figure in interactive entertainment for over 30 years and has worked on some of the most critically acclaimed and bestselling games of recent years. He founded the company Revolution Software in 1990, whose Broken Sword is one of the world’s most successful adventure series, achieving multi-million sales. He is currently a visiting lecturer at both the University of York and the National Film and Television School.

Oona King, Baroness King of Bow, is a member of the House of Lords since 2011. She is a writer, broadcaster and political campaigner and has worked as a television presenter for Channel 4, BBC, Sky, Five and ITV. She has chaired the steering committee of the Cultural Diversity Network (an organisation representing all Britain’s major broadcasters) and is currently employed as diversity executive at Channel 4.

Pat Butler is the only appointment without a clear link to the TV, film or games industry. Butler is a former director of McKinsey &Co, international management consultants. He spent 25 years with the firm and has helped CEOs and boards of global companies in the UK, Europe, Middle East, North America and South Africa on issues of strategy, organisation and performance improvement.  He is a chartered accountant and also sits on the board of the Bank of Ireland.

The three new Board members appear to be typical establishment candidates, two of them graduates of the honours system. It is extremely discouraging that in the same year the Board both declined to replace an elected member and then proceeded to discontinue that post.

The modern era started with the ringing demand of the North American colonists in their conflict with the then British Establishment:

No Taxation without representation.

But it is difficult to see what representation on the Board there is for the ordinary British tax payer, from whence the majority of the Board’s funding comes. And the electorate for Member Governors is presumably overwhelmingly composed of just such taxpayers.

Given the Boards actions over the recent election one can have little confidence that they will reverse these decisions. Certainly not without substantial pressure. I have written a letter to the Board for the attention of all the Governors. My points are:

  1. They should rescind the withdrawal of the second Member Governor Post.
  2. They should either appoint the winning candidate in the recent election to the Board or proceed immediately to a fresh election.
  3. They should withdraw the requirement for 10% in the election.
  4. They should increase the representation of  Member Governors on the Board.
  5. And they should introduce an effective method of reporting back to members and electors.

The initial response was a suggestion that I write to the Deputy Chairman who supervises the Appointments sub-committee. However, I addressed my letter to all the Governors as these decisions were taken at a full meeting.

I would encourage any concerned members, subscribers or indeed users of the BFI to write in some similar fashion to the Board. Their next meeting is scheduled for January 23rd 2014. It would be good if by then they received a substantial number of complaints and demands to that or similar effect.

Note you can contact the Board by writing to the Board of Governors and also by email. The contact should be the Board Secretary Iain Thomson.

His Office is at the BFI main building, 21 Stephens Street, London W1T 1L

Iain.Thomson@bfi.org.uk

Can I add a note regarding Cy Young who died last autumn. In my experience he was the most effective Member Governor that there has been for years. He will be missed.

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2 comments

  1. keith1942

    Apparently there are some BFI members who did not receive notification of the election last autumn. I have one friend who only learnt about it from me – his details arrived very late in the process. Another friend received the elction notification but not the voting pack. And the dates of the election process seemed very confused. I had to chase up my voting details. Sounds like the elction process needs a proper check.
    I should add that the statement regarding the election has now appeared on the opne pages of the BFI Website. I am not certain how long it has actually been there. But its import is only clear if you also read the minutes.

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