Senior Socialist Health Association officers accused of anti-democratic moves, with critics linking manoeuvres to accusations of financial irregularities
The chair and secretary of the Socialist Health Association (SHA) have been accused by the group’s treasurer and others of moving to head off scrutiny of the association’s financial affairs, after allegations of financial irregularities.
The pair wrote to SHA members notifying them that it had barred a large number of branch delegates because of issues with dates of their election and that a meeting to decide how the SHA will be run in future will take place including only the small number of ‘properly elected’ delegates.
The email attributes the move to objections raised by former SHA chair Alex Scott-Samuel.
But Scott-Samuel vehemently denies that any such move is justified or that he backs it – and both he and the association’s elected treasurer are among a group claiming that delegates have been blocked to prevent exposure of what they say are ‘serious financial irregularities’ by right-wingers in the SHA. Scott-Samuel and treasurer Irene Leonard also say that Leonard has been denied access to the SHA’s Paypal account, in spite of Leonard’s duties and rights as elected treasurer.
Keeping the Treasurer out of financial accounts
Remarkably, when the SKWAWKBOX contacted the SHA chair and secretary for comment, Chair Dr Brian Fisher at first denied that Leonard had been denied access:
our Treasurer has access to details of transactions in both accounts: the Coop and PayPal
However, when informed that Leonard insisted that she did not have access to the PayPal account, Fisher amended this to:
There are sound reasons for not giving direct access to the raw PayPal account. The Treasurer can see where the transactions come from and go to.
I can’t go into further detail, I’m afraid.
When the matter was pressed, Fisher responded:
Sorry, no further questions.
What the Treasurer says
Treasurer Irene Leonard has provided the following statement:
I identified irregularities from a badly formulated subset of PayPal information forwarded to me by the administrator. The very existence of a financial account that contravenes the constitution is astonishing and totally unacceptable.
The PayPal constitutes the third and possibly largest financial stream of the SHA – I don’t know for sure because I am unable to access it.
It cannot be audited because the admin and secretary alone can access it. They have historically transferred fees and expenses from this account without any authorisation or monitoring.
In many emails Brian Fisher has urged, cajoled, instructed me to leave the situation as it is and accept info passed to me from admin. In one he admitted to interfering with the financial processes. This is anti constitutional and outside his domain.
A string of meetings have recently been cancelled or cut short, including a meeting to discuss the serious financial irregularities. Now most of our delegates have been blocked and a meeting is scheduled to decide the standing orders of the association without them.
The former Chair’s statement
Former chair Alex Scott-Samuel, to whom Fisher and SHA secretary Jean Hardiman-Smith attributed their move to block delegates, vehemently denies that he supports the move or was involved in it. Scott-Samuel told the SKWAWKBOX:
In exercising my right of reply to the statement from the chair, I refute his claim that I agree the branch AGMs to have been unconstitutional.
Although they technically fell outside the timings specified in the Constitution, they were both acknowledged and accepted as legitimate by the officers and vice chairs, as a result of the disruption caused by firstly, the dismissal of the former SHA director and the cleaning up of financial and management systems which followed and secondly, the general election.
Indeed, the Secretary was actively involved in arranging several branch AGMs including Greater Manchester; and she actually attended the Cheshire AGM and (unconstitutionally) proposed her husband (SHA‘s temporary administrator) as a branch delegate!
Skwawkbox ran a story on December 31 which referred to a right wing slate of SHA election candidates, this included the current Chair and Secretary. Their treasurer candidate and many of their central council candidates were not elected. Those facts provide a more accurate insight into what is currently happening than do their narrow, highly selective statements about the Constitution.
And the Constitution does not of course give any officers the right to carve up the central council without its approval. Their actions are more in keeping with Trump’s White House or Kim Jong Un than with a Labour Party affiliated organisation.
In any case, Fisher’s comment about an officer majority is not correct because both of those voting had a conflict of interest; Smith created the financial irregularities and Fisher has previously said in writing that he does not want Irene to have control of the PayPal account
The Special General Meeting
Under the SHA’s constitution, if 30 SHA members request a Special General Meeting (SGM), one must be arranged rapidly. More than 30 members have sent the following to the chair and secretary:
I support the call for a Special General Meeting under section 17 of the constitution. This should take place by 8th August 2020 instead of a reconstituted Central Council.
I support the call that the following resolution be considered:
SHA members note with considerable concern that:
• Our national Treasurer has been reporting serious financial irregularities.
• The decision of the national Chair and Secretary to overrule the elections at our 2020 AGM without consultation with the Treasurer, Vice Chairs or Central Council members. This has resulted in the disenfranchisement of almost all branches and raises very basic issues of governance.
In this light we call for:
1. Full financial controls to be placed in the hands of our National Treasurer as required by our constitution.
2. Reversing the arbitrary decision of the Chair and Secretary to removemany members of the Central Council without seeking broader agreement. This decision is a violation of our constitution and a serious breakdown of collective working. This would restore the Central Councilmembers in place since the last Annual General Meeting and reaffirm the rights of our branch members.
3. A vote of no confidence in the Secretary and call for her immediate resignation with election for a replacement organised and overseen by the VCs elected at the AGM;
4. A vote of no confidence in the Chair and call for his immediate resignation with election for a replacement organised and overseen by the VCs elected at the AGM;
The full initial response from Brian Fisher to the SKWAWKBOX’s request for comment is below. The details noted early in this article followed on from this initial statement:
A number of branch elections were held outside the time window specified by our Constitution. We investigated and confirmed this to be the case. Everyone agrees, including the Chair who allowed them, that these delegates were elected unconstitutionally. They are not Central Council members. The branch delegates are being excluded because of the rules, not in spite of them.
The last meeting of Officers and Vice Chairs was postponed because of diary clashes. The report had already been circulated. Irregularities need to be investigated and no-one is standing in the way.
We have ensured that our Treasurer has access to details of transactions in both bank accounts. Indeed, the fact that she can identify irregularities testifies to that.
The Vice-Chairs are elected to fulfil specific roles. They are not there to take decisions about the running of the SHA. That is the responsibility of Officers. A majority of Officers are entitled to make a decision.
The Central Council member
However, when the chair and secretary sent the notification of their plan to bar delegates, a central council member sent back a lengthy response explaining why their plan was unlawful – and pointing out that if delegates are barred as ineligible, no ‘majority of officers’ exists. This response included:
The branches were given permission to do what they did by the then Chair. He had power, by a custom and practice which we are following now, to interpret the constitution at the time. The fact that the current chair would have taken a different decision does not render the original decision invalid. I understand that Alex considers his original actions to have been right and I can see arguments which, whether I agree with them or not, would have put his decision within the band of reasonableness…
A person or organisation which has made a statement on which others have relied is subsequently legally prohibited from retracting it to their detriment. Alex had sufficient ostensible authority at the time to set up a promissory estoppel binding the SHA. Branches relied on that, and so did individuals who did not stand for election to CC as they believed that being branch delegates they were ineligible. That… binds us. In order for it not to be bind us Alex’s decision would have had to be challenged at the time.
Accordingly I think the branch delegates should be reinstated to CC. My own view is that the way this should be done is by accepting that rule 13(b) does not explicitly prohibit the changing of delegates and that the presumption that delegates can be changed is not therefore overridden. Alternatively, if Brian doesn’t accept that argument, they should be reinstated by promissory estoppel…
If we do not reinstate the branch delegates then I think there are far ranging other consequences. The Vice Chairs were in that case elected by an improperly constituted Central Council so we don’t have a fully-constituted officer group. There is no argument you can advance to legitimate those elections that does not also legitimate the branch delegate elections…
If [Brian] is not willing to proceed in either of those ways then I think we have a very serious constitutional problem in that there is no validly elected Central Council or officer group.
The response of the current chair and secretary to the members’ constitutionally-binding demand for a special general meeting is awaited.
Secretary Jean Hardiman-Smith did not respond to the request for comment.
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