RCN Council vote against convening planned General Meeting
On Thursday 12th November, RCN Council met and voted against convening the general meeting, citing Covid19, an inability to find an online AGM platform and “safety of staff” as reasons.
The RCN had already emailed all members giving notice of the meeting, and asking members to register attendance or assign proxy votes.
The General Meeting, which had been demanded by over 1,100 members following the chaotic conduct and eventual cancellation of the RCN Presidential elections earlier this year, was due to have been held on 27th November and feature resolutions calling for further reform of the RCN’s governance and a temporary extension of the incumbent President’s term of office to allow fresh elections to be held.
Petitioner (and former Chair of RCN Council) Michael Brown was informed of the vote on Thursday evening, following which a meeting between the Petitioners’ Working Group and representatives of Council took place on Friday 13th November. In this meeting, Council members admitted that the vote meant that the RCN was breaching its own Standing Orders in failing to convene the general meeting within the three months mandated, and that Council members knew this to be the case before they voted. Michael Brown said “I am saddened by this news and Council’s lack of respect for our members. Citing technical difficulties is hard to understand when already this year they have hosted an AGM and a number of Congress debates. I’m also concerned about reversing a decision that a full Council meeting had previously taken.”
Under section 13.4 of the Standing Orders, the petitioners themselves may now convene a general meeting, the cost of which must be reimbursed by the RCN.
Lead petitioner Ed Freshwater said “This is a truly disappointing and remarkable decision by Council. We had been working together for many weeks in a spirit of cooperation, but this sudden u-turn by Council was a complete surprise and has left us with the onerous task of organising a general meeting ourselves. We are all working nurses; being left high and dry by the organisation that’s meant to be looking after us is frankly ridiculous. I suspect there are factions within Council who want us set up to fail; in amongst our jobs and family lives – and all the voluntary hours we devote to supporting RCN members and being activists – we have to take on a task that was seemingly beyond the enormous organisation that we pay subscriptions to!”
The petition, submitted to General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair on 1st September, followed concerns regarding the role of RCN Governance and the returning officer in disqualifying two candidates from the presidential elections, in one case for mentioning the RCN in a Tweet. The election rules, approved by Council, gave the Returning Officer the authority to write, interpret and implement any rules they saw fit with no oversight or right of appeal.
Disqualified Presidential candidate, and former Chair of RCN Congress Stuart McKenzie stated “I am truly struggling to recognise the RCN as the organisation I joined and have served over 23 years. Our elected and employed leaders appear to have lost sight to whom the College belongs, and that it is their purpose to serve members’ interests as a profession. Standing Orders are ignored with impunity, and members who challenge the status quo experience the organisation they pay for turning against them. Where the RCN goes from here is difficult to determine but for sure Government observers will be happy. Not only are we unable to elect a President, we can’t decide how to undertake an EGM – so how could we ever hold a ballot [on industrial action] if the need arose?”
The petition stated that members did not have confidence in the leadership of the RCN, and called for a review of management and governance to be overseen by members; this review would present changes members could vote on at the 2021 AGM.
Petitioner Craig Davidson said “It is unfortunate that, even under new leadership, Council and the executive seem to be acting outside their own Standing Orders and Charter, and reversing a democratic member-led process they had already instigated. We placed confidence in Council to carry out the meeting to address underlying governance issues.”
The Petitioners’ Working Group will be seeking independent legal and technical advice prior to progressing any General Meeting. However, given the time of year and the short notice given by Council, it seems unlikely that a General Meeting could take place before the New Year.
This means that, from 1st January 2021, the RCN would be left without an elected president to represent the members. Ed Freshwater said “This is a hugely embarrassing situation for the RCN; by failing to convene a meeting, and allowing the organisation to be without a President, they have demonstrated a total lack of good governance. This just proves why the petition – and the General Meeting – are so vital to the future of our professional body.”