Remit of meeting
The meeting was advertised as:-
If you are interested in knowing more about Continuity (the charity that manages BiCon’s money), the Trustees will be holding an open forum / question & answer session from 2 – 2.45pm on Sunday 23rd August 2020 by video conference. This is scheduled to take place just before our General Meeting that will run from 3 – 4 pm as the General Meeting will probably be easier to follow for some people if they have been able to ask questions about Continuity in advance. If you would like to come to the open forum session and/or observe the General Meeting, please email firstname.lastname@example.org (and please do email, rather than tweet at us or comment on Facebook). Our selection of video conferencing software will depend on how many people in total want to attend and we will confirm the software and any information needed to join the meeting by email in advance of the meeting.
We received a number of questions in advance, with some follow up questions during the meeting. Kate, Natalya and Rowan took notes in the chat and this is a summary of what was said. We requested that other people not download the chat and promised to release notes afterwards.
The answers in these notes are a series of bullet points as different people had different things to say. Some of the notes come from chat during the meeting; most from the meeting verbal discussion.
Question 1: What deposits have been needed for BiCons over the last 5 or so years + a London BiCon?
- Nottingham wanted 15k and 50% upfront in 2015, and in 2015 we used the existence of Continuity to persuade them to accept less that 100% in advance and to make some reductions because we are a charity.
- Universities may be much more insecure or ask for more money after Covid, which we should bear in mind.
- UEL in London in 2010 asked for £25k deposit then we beat them down to £10k as we only had £12k at the time!
- Manchester Met 2013 would have wanted 30k deposit. Leeds was 5k in 2017, now 12k for 2020. [This is the deposit which has now been carried over for 2022.]
- Edinburgh 2013 wanted room numbers 6 months in advance and their deposit included a percentage of the cost of all rooms booked. Ideally you'll agree 150-200 rooms in advance and be able to get more nearer the time, but Edinburgh wouldn’t do that so every five bedrooms not actually filled in Edinburgh 2013 would have cost BiCon about a thousand pounds.
- It's worth saying BiCon is not a "big customer" to universities, because we try and cut all the catering and the extras which they make the most money on. This is especially true of big places like Edinburgh where in 2013 they had many groups in at a time – we were about 1% of their bookings.
- Continuity doesn't necessarily lend exactly the amount of the deposit because the deposit might be paid after the team already has some participant money coming in.
Response to answer 1
- Thanks, yes this is exactly the kind of data which I think ought to be available to anyone in the community, even if we decide not to make it fully public.
Question 2: Where have we made surplus or loss, and why?
- The biggest actual loss was £3000 in 2001 but there have been scares around losing more.
- We had much less money in the 2001 era than we do now and venue costs and hence potential losses are higher now.
- We expected 2015 to lose slightly, but it didn't cos we got 100 extra bookings.
- 2010 planned to lose money, and so did 2018, but in the end made a surplus.
- 2010 expected to lose £3-5k especially when we had to get caterers in at the last moment as the venue bar had gone bankrupt, but we got a lot of local day visitors.
- The reasons we’ve not made a loss have either been unexpectedly high numbers or compensations paid back from the venue bill due to venue failings.
- Leicester 2011 saved 12k on the venue bill and made our biggest surplus in the end – £20,000, but that was compensation for terrible awful no good venue problems.
- Same for 2018, we got £1700 off the bill, so had 700 surplus, instead of expecting to lose ~£1000, so the surplus in 2018 was also due to venue fail compensation.
- Making a fuss about venue failings and getting compensation is a huge amount of work even though we’re very good at it. And obviously we prefer venues not to fail in the 1st place.
Question 2b: Are the 'bad venue' refunds returned to the attendees who suffered?
- Sometimes we have offered substantial partial refunds to attendees who were worst affected by venue failings.
- 2008 and 2011 offered a choice of a refund, giving the money back to Continuity or a ringfenced donation back to access fund for future years… People took a mix of options.
- Refunds also happened in 2008 when the venue ended up charging us less than they said they would for one sort of accommodation.
Responses to answer 2:
- That's useful thanks. I think it would be useful in due course to fill in the blanks.
- Thanks, yes this is exactly the kind of data which I think ought to be available to anyone in the community, even if we decide not to make it fully public.
- Can we have a table of deposits, venue costs and surplus loss for the last 10 years?
- Could we list predicted bill and then actual bill and maybe have a comment on things like "bill lower than expected" or "complaint got discount".
- Noted Continuity started in 2011, so earlier figures may be hard to find. E.g. in 2008 the team had to chase 3 prior teams to get BiCon’s money out of them.
Question 3: What are the steps to change how Continuity functions? What can be done to make it more accountable to BiCon?
- Continuity is answerable to the Charity Commission so there are limits to how it can change.
- We have one charitable aim: “The promotion of social inclusion among bisexual people who are socially excluded from society, or parts of society, as a result of being bisexual, in particular but not exclusively by providing workshops, forums, advice, financial assistance, recreational activities and general support.”
- Question: as long as the goals fit in with the broad aims registered, surely anything is ok by the Charity Commission and it’s easy to change? Often ‘the articles’ are given as a reason change is restricted, i.e. we couldn't change because of the articles. However, it seems that this article is wide enough that BiCon Continuity could happily change its methods within the pursuance of that aim?
- Lots of things fit in the aim.
- [Aside about VAT discounts at venues] Because we are an ‘educational’ charity we don’t have to pay VAT on accommodation IF that is run by an educational org, e.g. University. Unfortunately more and more unis are contracting out their venues…
- Changing the structure of Continuity is most limited by the articles: when Continuity was planned, we became a member of the NCVO (https://www.ncvo.org.uk, was the National Council of Voluntary Organisations) and got a lot of advice about the structure to create – how many members, how many trustees/directions who can vote, that sort of thing. We had a lot of help from an external consultant on the structure of organisations.
- At the time we were set up, the process was to become a Limited Company (which has Directors listed at Companies House) and then become a Charity (which has Trustees listed with the Charity Commission) by gaining charitable status. Trustees and Directors are the same people.
- The consultant recommended limited membership, max 25, of people who were especially interested. We adopted that, and the members vote for the trustees.
An average of 300 people attend BiCon each year, one third of them new. That’s at least 1000 new people, maybe 3000 in total over 10 years. It’s unmanageable to have them involved in every decision.
- [Comment from the floor]: Can verify from other experience that having a giant org of which most people don't participate, & don't have current addresses, is a big pain in the arse!
- The Charity Commission requires trustees to be good financial conservators, and we can be personally liable if we mess up. Messing up essentially means losing BiCon’s money accidentally but in a way we could have predicted, or spending it outside our aim.
- One of the internal structures of how we work with BiCon is that we try not to pay for things directly (so the Charity can’t be sued and money is safe for the next year even if the deposit is lost for one year). There is some conflict with the VAT discount mentioned above for university accommodation.
Question 4. When has Continuity gone against/changed decisions of DMP?
- We do very carefully listen to the DMP decisions and discussions at BiCon. It’s possible we can’t make some decisions happen, but we do try to, and try to advise any teams to keep those decisions in mind alongside the Guidelines.
- Having looked through the past decade's DMP minutes, Trustee said they can't spot any instances of Continuity going against the clearly expressed view of a DMP.
- The only examples are about replacing teams, and once removing a team leader: there have been a couple of instances with the person / people who said they would run one year's event (and the DMP have voted to support), where Continuity has stepped in during the year because the team wasn’t making enough progress for an event to happen, or happen safely.
- Past trustee: ‘The closest thing I think Continuity has come to going against DMP is changing the organising team of 2018 team when things were going wrong or not happening right. And that was with the DMP knowing Continuity had final oversight on teams. And it was done with much reluctance to interfere and I personally feel we probably left it later than ideal…. But it was balancing interference, trying to engage with team and "making a BiCon happen"’.
- Observation: But it is made clear at DMPs that Continuity can do that.
- We try to be financially sound and err on the side of caution.
- We committed to “taking due regard of DMP decisions”. Due regard because some DMP votes could become controversial over time or outdated.
- From former trustee: ‘For non legal people "due regard" is quite strong wording in legal terms and I think when I was a trustee, we took the DMP very seriously… Cos we know we have to stand up and answer to the community in an in-person DMP…’
- Example from the past is smoking. BiCon started with due regard for non smokers, then the law changed. In that event, Continuity would move with the law not the former vote. What happened in practice is that BiCon Guidelines changed, eventually added a guideline to have regard for smokers, largely because it was a class issue.
- Comment from the floor: Only thing Continuity is stopping BiCon doing is not giving people money
Follow up comment: Or not letting a certain team do it.
- From a trustee: The second should be "Not letting an event call itself a BiCon". The classic example is an outside group that wanted to allow only people who identify as bisexual to attend. You can run that, but it's not what the community would recognise as a 'BiCon'.
Question 5. (arguable part of question 3.) for any changes – would the members or the trustees be voting on this? who gets a say? and who has to do it?
- Continuity’s members would vote in trustees, but all trustees are members too so would have a vote.
- Continuity can have up to 25 members. There were 15 members in August 2020.
- Trustees then make most decisions (though in a way that is compatible with our duties as trustees – see above discussion re the Charity Commission and our Object). We sometimes ask members for advice and widen discussion.
- em>Question: Curious to know, do you (meaning another person in the meeting) have an example of a change we might actually want to make?
- Answer: Maybe around continuity between teams i'm thinking – an organisational memory or checkpoint (which Continuity informally does operate as at times… but not at others haha)
- Another thought about change: we often take a long time to weigh up decisions, aiming for consensus. Also, we are not fast with communication, which can be very frustrating
- Question: Is there any room to move away from consensus of all trustees and waiting periods for this to happen?
Convince trustees about what will be a wise decision.
- Interested people can become members who help with things like writing policy. Also members help decide on tricky financial decisions and have generally volunteered when needed. (Example added later: Member wrote GDPR policy).
- Members don’t have to have names registered with Charity Comm; trustees do.
- [Slight side discussion about structure]: if Continuity was set up today, it would have been a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) which would just make requirements to Charity Commission…
I am not sure about CIOs – there are decades of case laws and other things that mean it's easier to know what the law on companies is. For CIOs – there isn't.
- Question: Who can propose changes for members of BCL to vote on? Who puts through a vote about that if we say we don’t eg like the number of hats BCL trustees wear?
- [Further discussion on roles and change]: Does it need to be continuity who makes community decisions as per what XYZis saying?… I feel Continuity's value is 'establishment'… I'm thinking of a steering committee.
- It has never happened that anyone has started a procedural vote. We have had complaints and investigated, and changed policy maybe as result
From a member: Generally the 'it' is BiCon to be turned upside down, not us.
- Observation and discussion on oversight roles needed for BiCon: The thing is… Continuity was needed to look after the money. It's not meant to be The Bosses Of BiCon. BiCon went for years without Continuity even existing, it's just that was risky in terms of cash.
I know that's what it was, but is that what we need now?
Query from the floor: I feel I’m missing subtext. Is the suggestion that Continuity should do more?
From trustee: There are also various continually existing things that need something continuing to look after them. The bicon.org.uk domain is one [especially after] the DMP decided that Facebook is not a place for official BiCon organising, beyond read-only announcements. The website only needs a continuing bank account and someone to look after it.
One question is whether there should be an oversight body for BiCon, and another is whether that body should be Continuity. We may well need other things now – but if Continuity's going to do all those other things, there's got to be wayyy more capacity in Continuity, otherwise everyone in it could get burnt out. [General agreement]
It may well be that BiCon needs a steering group that is separate from Continuity.
- From the floor: Power dynamics due to inequalities in privilege affect the ability to complain 'officially'
- From potential trustee: I raised that communication with teams has been poor and often complaints/issues end up on social media not brought to us. I want to change this, and am standing as a trustee to do so.
- Social power is as important as official power. Continuity trustees can/have stood up at DMP to express strong opinions which may have swayed the [DMP] vote, such as support PoC only spaces
- Comment: Agreeing with earlier comments: long-term continuity (small c) is a missing thing. But I'm not necessarily sold that it's Continuity's job to supply it (despite the name 🙂 )
- Comment: I think [this session has] made me aware of more questions than answers, but that's ok
- Would like another – in like 3 months?
- Thank you – this has been a very informative session
- I'm still quite confused to be honest! The written version was better, I can't keep track of everyone's input here.
- The original email from H was probably the most useful; please make a public version of that!
- Some more info is at https://biconcontinuity.org.uk/about/ in case useful. It may well benefit from clarity
- Continuity promised to do minutes of some kind.