At 11am on Saturday 22 April, the sun beat down on the Welsh mountains, yet it was standing room only in the large lecture room at Plas y Brenin. The promise of a BMC AGM does not normally draw in the crowds – especially on a bluebird day – but this was no normal year.
The 170 climbers and walkers had turned their backs on the crags and hills to make their voice heard in a debate aiming straight at the heart of British mountaineering. The marathon four-hour session would see passionate views, informed debate, conspiracy theories and – in an unexpected finale – the resignation of current BMC President Rehan Siddiqui.
The AGM weekend started on Friday night, when the room first filled for a BMC TV session, culminating in the Hard Rock film and a toast to the late Ken Wilson, before BMC ambassador James McHaffie took everyone on a dizzying tour of hard ascents and big walls.
"BMC ambassador James McHaffie took everyone on a dizzying tour of hard ascents and big walls"
The first Saturday session started at 9.30 with an hour-long Question Time, a chance to informally raise any questions or issues, before the AGM itself started at 11.00. The first agenda items were quickly rattled through (minutes, annual report and annual accounts approved), and votes were cast for re-elections (President Rehan Siddiqui and Vice Presidents Nick Kurth and Emma Flaherty). The next step was voting in the new candidates for the Executive Committee: Graham Richmond (Treasurer); Roger Fanner, Wil Kilner and Rik Payne (National Council Representatives); and Independent Directors Simon McCalla and Matthew Bradbury.
The packed room at Plas y Brenin. Photo: Alex Messenger.
For the vacant Vice President position, Lynn Robinson and Fiona Sanders were proposed from the floor with a show of hands to decide on the spot. Both were highly impressive candidates, with Lynn narrowly pipping Fiona 80 to 74.
Next up was the only agenda item that usually causes controversy: a membership subscription increase of £2.50/year for individuals and £1 for club, U18, student and unwaged members. With membership prices level for five years and the proposed increase “less than a cake or half a pint” as one member pointed out, the vote was in favour (1,664 to 520).
But this room wasn’t so busy on such a warm day to hear about minutes, annual reports and subscription rises, a large proportion had only come for one thing: to vote on the proposed motion of no confidence.
Prior to an AGM, BMC members can get together to submit items for inclusion. This year, Bob Pettigrew, Doug Scott, Dennis Gray and others had submitted agenda item 9 (a “motion”) calling for a vote of no confidence in the Executive Committee of the BMC – our voluntary board of directors.
Before this Saturday, their exact reasons were unclear. They had cited “wilful and deliberate withholding of future policy decisions from the members in attendance at the 2016 Annual General Meeting,” and it was understood that the “future policy decisions” related to the Climb Britain rebrand issue last year. Today was Bob Pettigrew’s chance to explain exactly what the issue was.
For this section of the meeting, very ably chaired by Rik Payne of the BMC London Area, Bob would get 15 minutes to present his case, followed by the BMC case presented by Rupert Davies. Rik set out the terms of the debate: it would continue for as long points were adding to the discussion, rather than summarising it, and then a show of hands vote would be taken. After voting, this would be added to the over 2,100 proxy votes already submitted and the final results calculated.
"Bob – dressed in his Wayfarer’s Club tee-shirt for the occasion – was clearly keen to share his views."
Bob Pettigrew: bringer of the motion. Photo: Alex Messenger.
Bob – dressed in his Wayfarer’s Club tee-shirt for the occasion – was first to the lecturn, clearly keen to share his views. However, his exact argument for the motion of no confidence remained unclear. The first five minutes of his speech detailed the background to the motion, his fellow proposers and various club connections before he delved into the “hidden agenda of enormous consequences” inferring that the IFSC had requested both the name change of the Japanese Mountaineering Association and the BMC in pursuit of Olympic reward. He was clearly passionate about mountaineering but held historic issues with the world body for mountaineering (the UIAA) and its competition climbing offshoot (the IFSC). His core concern came at the end: “this Olympic kind of disease.”
BMC Vice President Rupert Davies then presented the case for the BMC or, rather, the case against Bob Pettigrew’s allegations. He explained that the Executive is a voluntary board, brought in on a three-year basis, and that there are “no real benefits from being on the Executive, very little thanks and often a lot of criticism – not only for their decisions, but for decisions that were made years before that Executive came into power. But the benefits of such a system is that it constantly allows members to have a say”
Rupert Davies: BMC Vice President. Photo: Alex Messenger.
"Bob has kept his powder dry until today as to what underlay the motion. My notes today about what may be brought up are diverse, but until we got here today, no-one knew that it was the “Olympic disease” that was underlying the motion. And, although this has been made clear to the members of this room, it has not been made aware of the other 80,000 members of the BMC who have had to decide on this well in advance of coming here.
"This wasn’t an attempt to positively influence to the direction of the BMC"
"Simply put – it is inappropriate to vote on a motion where the membership as a whole itself has not had an opportunity to consider what underlies it. If it has been a desire of the proposers that different BMC members are on the Executive moving forward, it would have been possible for these members to stand themselves. As such, this is not a positive proposal. This wasn’t an attempt to positively influence to the direction of the BMC.
"I would now like to give some confidence moving forward. We are instigating a ground-up review, it will be independent, it will be arm’s length and it will ensure that the decision-making structures are fit for purpose and reflect the desires of the members.”
Following the two cases, it was time for a discussion then vote. Around 15 members spoke in detail about their feelings and concerns, with younger member Inigo Atkin even drawing some – hopefully good natured – boos, when he observed that:
“There is a process of modernisation and this is really just a reaction and a complaint against that. I understand the complaint against a mass member organisation that perhaps doesn’t cater towards the original idea of a mountaineering council, but that’s not a world we live in anymore and there is a responsibility on the Executive to make the sport reflect everyone and I think they’re doing a very good job.”
After 45 minutes, Rik Payne asked the floor if it was ready to conclude and a show-of-hands vote was taken – the results would be revealed very shortly.
Voting in the AGM (not for Item 9). Photo: Alex Messenger.
The AGM had now concluded, and it was time to thank the outgoing members of the Executive Committee who had reached the end of their terms: Brian Smith, Colin Knowles, John Simpson and Rupert Davies. Our thanks go to all four of them for very dedicated service during a difficult time.
Attentions started to wander, eyes glancing at the blue skies outside the windows, but this AGM was about to see an unexpected twist. President Rehan Siddiqui took the stage to read a statement, but, overcome with emotion, his partner Louise read it out for him.
"a targeted politically motivated attack to take control of the BMC, effectively an attempted coup."
In the powerful address, Rehan detailed that this “motion of no confidence by Bob Pettigrew , Doug Scott, Dennis Gray and supporters has been a targeted politically motivated attack to take control of the BMC, effectively an attempted coup. This has been to impose their views regarding their dislike for the Olympics, competition climbing, the International Federation of Sport Climbing, promoting and attracting membership from hill walkers”
“Although the motion of no confidence has not been successful, The BMC faces significant challenges going forward. Executive Committee and National Council have agreed that a review of governance is required and the best way forward on this is to have an independently chaired review group which will report to National Council and the Executive Committee. This effort is also supported by major clubs such as the Alpine Club, Climbers Club and others. This review is likely to lead to recommendations for major changes to the articles of association. Today’s BMC is much larger than when the current Articles of Association were written."
Current President Rehan Siddiqui (L). Photo: Alex Messenger.
He went on to explain the work this created for the voluntary BMC Executive: “The Executive Committee is not composed of long-standing, entrenched members. The Executive (with exception of the salaried CEO) is actually composed of hard-working volunteers who are highly respected in their various professional fields. The work load on the President and members of the Executive Committee is significant and regularly goes way beyond what is reasonable for voluntary unpaid roles. The motion of no confidence has added to the existing pressure and I have been consumed in BMC matters from dawn to late into the night for extended periods of time."
"It is essential that the review group looks at the roles, responsibilities and time commitments of the volunteer Executive to ensure that the BMC has the capability to recruit as wide-a-range of talent as possible. The BMC needs to be able to attract current professional people to Executive positions as well as retired individuals.
"By having a balanced and inclusive approach based on consultation and consensus, we are collectively stronger"
"My theme as BMC President has been to encourage the wide and diverse range of activities that the BMC is involved with. The BMC is rightly proud to promote the rich heritage of British mountaineering and traditional climbing values. It is the representative body for traditional climbing and mountaineering, hill walking, sport climbing, bouldering, clubs et al as well as acting as the governing body for competition climbing. By having a balanced and inclusive approach based on consultation and consensus, we are collectively stronger.
"After successfully leading the BMC through the biggest challenge to its existence in its entire history, I have decided that the time is right to stand down as President of the BMC. The last few months in particular have been very difficult and I have been frustrated that the motion of no confidence has meant that energy and focus of both volunteers and staff has been directed away from the many positive areas which members benefit. I have a business to run and a young family to provide for and cannot reasonably make such a huge sacrifice anymore."
READ: the full version of Rehan Siddiqui's resignation speech
A member summed up the feeling of the room when she said: “I think you have handled this fantastically, you deserve lots of recognition for your achievements and I would like it if you changed your mind.”
With the surprise of Rehan’s announcement, the reason that everyone was here was momentarily forgotten. However, with the mood in the room, the final result didn’t come as a surprise to anyone: 2,100 against, 359 for and 62 abstaining.
It was a bittersweet victory for the BMC: the motion had been defeated but the organisation has lost a very inclusive, dedicated and energetic president. However, the BMC itself remains as vibrant as ever, with 82,700 members, nearly 2,500 of whom were passionate enough to vote and 170 dedicated enough to visit the AGM (100 more than usually attend).
"Despite any differences, we believe that British climbing, mountaineering and walking are stronger together"
With a steadily growing and increasingly diverse membership, it’s very healthy to encourage debate, but, despite any differences, we believe that British climbing, mountaineering and walking are stronger together. As Rehan himself said in his resignation speech:
“Aristotle said ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. I firmly believe that by being inclusive enables us to educate our younger generation of the rich heritage of British climbing, traditional values and protecting the environment. I also believe that it is important that we embrace youth, support competition climbing on artificial structures and find ways to engage with users of climbing walls.
"I have immense pride in the BMC and utmost respect for the excellent and hard-working fellow executives and BMC staff that I have had the pleasure of working with. I will not leave the organisation leaderless and will stay on in the role until a new President or acting President can be appointed.”
THANKS: to everyone who took the time to vote or visit the AGM
BMC organisational review
It’s key that the BMC stays true to the past, present and future. Volunteers are sought to take part in a BMC organisational review. The review aims to update the constitution of the BMC to ensure that it is ready to meet any future challenges. Find out more here.
JOIN THE BMC: save 50% on your first year's membership
The BMC works for climbers like you. Benefits include:
Access to BMC Travel Insurance
Register for Mountain Training award schemes
£10m worldwide Combined Liability insurance
£10,000 Personal Accident insurance
Find out more about BMC membership benefits
WATCH: What we do in All in a Day's Work on BMC TV