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Charity Commission and SHARP Constitution

This blog is about the charity SHARP and its constitution. It explains a bit more about the complexities relating to the SHARP constitution that the committee find themselves facing.

Some new volunteers may be unaware that one of the guiding principles of SHARP is that volunteers that dig with us become members of SHARP and therefore get a vote and a say at our AGMs. The committee also feel that as a charity, SHARP’s governance should be open to all and able to be scrutinised. We want to make people aware of the situation and show how SHARP is always trying to improve and move forward.

 

Constitutions and AGMs

There have been several constitutions over the years. The four known constitutions are the original 1997 version, a 2008/9 version, 2018 version and the new 2023 version proposed and voted on at our last AGM.


In 2023 while we were working on the constitution and AGM, several of the committee were concerned about the legitimacy of the 2018 constitution and so further investigations have since taken place. This involved a consultation with the Charity Commission who, despite originally having accepted the constitution, have now ruled that we must completely ignore the 2018 constitution. The reason given by the Charity Commission was that they was not aware that in 2018 there was no public AGM carried out. They confirmed the new committee’s belief that to change a constitution you need to follow the previous constitutions rules surrounding votes. So, to remove the voting rights of members in the way the 2018 constitution did, the as then membership would have needed to vote to remove those rights at a public AGM. As the membership were not informed of a private vote by trustees in 2018, and therefore did not have a chance to vote for or against these changes, this makes the 2018 constitution invalid.


The Charity Commission has also informed us that the 2008/9 constitution, which we believe was correctly voted in at an AGM in 2008 and confirmed in 2009, was never accessioned with them. Therefore, despite this version being used by the charity between 2009-2018, the Charity Commission have informed us that we must now use the original 1997 constitution.

 

So where does this leave SHARP as a charity?

The AGM last year was done in two parts: an EGM and an AGM. Part of the reason for this was we had been told multiple times that the 2018 constitution was legitimate and, despite our doubts, the Charity Commission agreed. We held an Emergency General Meeting so that we could vote in an amended constitution that returned voting rights to the membership, so that they could then vote in the new committee and trustees. This was followed by an AGM where the voting was carried out.

However, the revelation that the 2018 constitution is invalid and that we should be using the 1997 constitution, means that the new 2023 constitution was not voted in correctly. There were people who attended the AGM in 2023 who would have been eligible to vote for or against the new constitution proposed based on the 1997 rules, but under the 2018 they had no voting rights, and therefore they were excluded during the EGM. The committee have decided that the new 2023 constitution is therefore also invalid, as we do not want to accept a new constitution voted in by excluding members.

 

What about the new committee and trustees?

We have checked and the voting in of new committee and trustees is only partially affected. The 1997 constitution has more named officers than the proposed 2023 constitution, with named roles for Chairman, Co-ordinator, Director, Promotions/Fundraisers Officer, Field Officer, Treasurer. There was no named position for a secretary, although its likely this was the co-ordinator role. The rules for voting in new trustees are the same as the constitution we proposed, therefore the trustees and main officers were voted in correctly (just under a different constitution than planned).

The only small problem are the committee members that are not currently trustees as the 1997 constitution says that ‘members of the committee shall be trustees’. However, as the current committee members were voted in (which gives them legitimacy), and since the 1997 constitution allows the trustees to fill vacancies if they choose to, the trustees have agreed that the current committee members can remain in post at least until the next AGM and we have a new constitution.

 

So, what’s next?

The committee was already keen to look at the constitution and general governance of the charity. We had plans to investigate changing into a CIO among other ideas so with this new revelation we have decided we will use this opportunity to do some wider consultation with the members of SHARP. We will be aiming to use this time between now and the AGM this summer to seek viewpoints.


If you are a member of SHARP, and would like to contribute, please fill in this questionnaire to help guide us going forward.


We will be working on updating the constitution in line with SHARPs original ethos while also bringing us into the 21st century.

 

Published on behalf of the SHARP Committee


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