West Midlands view of SHA Governance

On Tuesday 4 March the West Midlands Socialist Health Association Executive discussed the proposals from the SHA Governance Group, with the benefit of input from Rachel Harris who is a member and Peter Mayer who is one of our Central Council representatives.  We understand that the proposals are to be considered at the SHA AGM on 8 March, and we feel that as the largest SHA Branch outside London our views should carry some weight. 
We agreed that the following points should be brought to the attention of the AGM:
  1. Process: The proposals are voluminous and far-reaching in their implications, but even as committed and engaged members of SHA we have only become aware of their existence in the last few days. While we understand the need to consider an overhaul, we do not believe that these (or any other) proposals should be adopted until there has been a more active process of consultation with members.  With all due respect we do not think that posting material on the website fulfils the aspirations for ‘Democracy, Accountability and Transparency’ espoused by the document itself. 
  2. Structure: the paper is not structured in a way that assists understanding of its purpose and how the measures proposed will achieve them.  We think it would be helpful in carrying out a consultation with members to revise the paper to distinguish at least these three elements:
    • A preamble stating the purposes to be pursued and the strategic approach proposed;
    • The key elements of the constitutional changes that flow from that approach (with any consequent wording changes to the existing constitution relegated to an Appendix)
    • A series of headings briefly stating what kinds of changes might be necessary to subsidiary administrative instruments (Standing Orders, etc).  These should not be developed in any detail until and unless the guiding constitutional principles have been agreed.
  3. Policy: while we can see the need for clearer processes for deciding and promulgating SHA policy, and for handling complaints and HR issues, we feel that a sledgehammer is being taken to a nut. The processes and structures seem over-elaborate, more suited to a larger (and richer) organisation, and risk compromising the essence of the SHA as a small but responsive and nimble organisation. We are concerned that the proposal for a small Executive Committee with effective oversight of all policy work risks an oligarchy that undermines rather than promotes transparent member involvement.  The present Director has achieved this admirably over several years, and changes should therefore be made with care and circumspection. 
  4. Branches: as one of the largest branches of SHA we feel strongly that proposals affecting branch rights, obligations,  structures and relationship to the SHA should be brought together into a single coherent statement. We would like to invite the Chair of the Group to come and discuss the proposals (as a whole) at a Branch meeting convened for the purpose.
With best regards
Alan Wenban-Smith
Chair, West Midlands Socialist Health Association