I was disappointed to hear that a report compiled by a senior city official recommends that the council no longer gives grant aid to Edinburgh’s Mela Festival. Disappointed but not surprised. I chaired the board of the Mela for several years and felt honoured to do so, but I witnessed the kind of behaviour I had never seen displayed before or since on the many boards on which I served.
The Companies Act 2006 sets out directors’ duties in a statutory code. The summary of the general duties includes Section 172, ‘to promote the success of the company and to act in good faith’ and Section 174, ‘directors have a duty to exercise reasonable care, skill and diligence. A director owes a duty to his company to exercise the same care, skill and diligence that would be exercised by a reasonably diligent person’.
Alas, I wish that all directors heeded this directive, but when I chaired the board of the Mela, a minority would turn up late, did not bring papers relating to the conduct of the meeting such as agendas, previous minutes and reports and, on some occasions, proceed to oppose and criticise decisions taken at the previous meeting which they had in fact supported.
There were several attempts to form an artistic sub-committee which would afford them the opportunity to set the cultural programme for the festival – despite this being the primary duty of the full-time director who was appointed for that very purpose, and who presented the proposed event programme to the whole board for approval.
All in all I had no alternative other than to form the view that their main motivation was to increase their own personal standing and influence within their own communities, which they deemed to be of great importance.
Much more serious than the pen picture I have drawn of certain individuals are the conclusions drawn in the report, which cite concerns over the number of “staffing disputes”, as well as a failure to give “reliable” information on the company and a failure to meet funding targets over the last two years.
Concerns that some board members have served for more than 20 years also surfaced. Although the board attempted to rectify this when I was there, we were met by fierce resistance and intransigence from those ‘under threat’, who were determined to remain on the board come hell or high water.
Best practice suggests that board membership is critical to its success, and assessing the make-up of the board and actively refreshing it by replacing some of its members, can help ensure that success. OSCR, the Scottish Charity Regulator, also looks at board membership and whether or not there are procedures in place for board rotation. Failure to have such procedures can lead to serious consequences for a registered charity.
The previous full-time director, Chris Purnell, took the Mela to an employment tribunal for constructive unfair dismissal and has gone on record to claim that the event was being “destroyed from within” and that several board members had displayed a “reckless disregard” for the Mela’s own rules.
His warning that they had taken the event to the “brink of catastrophe” has proven to be sadly prophetic and we are now witnessing the death throes of what was a great multicultural festival. So, from its heyday when it attracted more than 25,000 people over a weekend to Leith Links, to its ultimate self-inflicted demise, this festival has been removed from the city events calendar. The city council has pledged to promote a replacement with a similar ethos and goals. Thousands of people throughout the city will be wishing them every success.
Fishing for ideas from the carpers
As predicted in last week’s column, the Scottish Greens did reach a deal with the Scottish Government on its proposed budget, which will enable it to be passed. As in the last two years, the SNP conceded some ground in order to secure their fellow independence party’s support.
Whilst some of the concessions were relatively easy, such as the tourism levy, others were a tad more difficult but just as predictable.
When setting the budget, Finance Secretary Derek Mackay would be only too well aware that the Greens would be knocking at his door setting out the conditions that would have to be met to rely on their support. They would have come as no surprise to him so would already have been factored in.
One such concession was an increase in the level of funding afforded to local authorities which, in Edinburgh’s case, means that the level of cuts that they will have to make is now pegged at £34 million rather than the £41m for which they were budgeting. So, although difficult decisions will still have to be made, the more acute and sensitive reductions may now be avoided, at least in part.
It will be interesting to see how the budget debate pans out in the City Chambers and whether or not opposition parties will also put forward their own proposals, or simply take the easy way out and be content with carping from the sidelines.
What the electorate deserves and what the electorate gets may be two different matters!
Feat of clay
My teacher told me I’d be no good at poetry due to my dyslexia, but so far I’ve made three jugs and a vase so up yours, Mr Maclintosh!