At the end of March, members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) were advised that some members had questioned the finances and governance of the Institution and had called for a special meeting. This advice reassured members that the IMechE’s financial strength was robust.

It also mentioned that the Institution’s president, Carolyn Griffiths, former chief inspector of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, will not chair the Trustee Board whist there is an investigation into complaints made against her by staff.

On their website, Mech Eng Matters , past Presidents calling for this meeting advise that she was removed from this role as she tried to discuss the financial state of the Institution with the Trustees she has been prevented from pursuing any measures to correct any financial and policy failings through her role. They raise questions over the conduct of the investigation and note that there was no reason to advise members of this ongoing investigation as grievances should be confidential. As a result this potentially harms the President’s reputation in breach of the Institution’s code of conduct which requires members to ensure they do not to injure another person’s reputation.

A month later, the IMechE’s 66,000 corporate and associate members received their notice of the special meeting to be held on 21 May.

This contained six motions, the first of which was a motion of confidence in the Trustee Board – tabled by the Trustee Board. The other motions included a call for an independent financial review as well as motions of no confidence in the IMechE’s chief executive Stephen Tetlow (CEO since 2009), president-elect Geoff Baker and honorary treasurer Ian Joesbury. These motions were proposed by four past presidents of the institution: Brain Kent (1994), Andrew Ives (2005), Roderick Smith (2011) and Patrick Kniveton (2013).

The eight-page special meeting notice started the voting process. It contains much to support the trustees’ position, including a statement from the Trustees Board, three pages of additional information supporting Motion 1, summarised accounts for 2017 and a recommendation, highlighted in red, that “Members vote in favour of Motion 1 and against Motions 2 to 6 (inclusive)”.

However, other than a copy of the letter from the past-presidents proposing their motions, it does not include any background information to support motions 2-6. When asked whether the past presidents had been offered the opportunity to explain their concerns in the special meeting notice, the IMechE replied: “The letter from four past Presidents of the Institution, containing their detailed reasoning for calling the Special Meeting and the motions they have put forward, was reproduced in full in the special meeting notice.”

One could question whether a photocopy of the letter calling for the meeting constitutes “detailed reasoning” comparable with the Trustee Board’s three-page submission, and ask whether it would have been fairer and more transparent for both sides of the argument to present their cases in similar fashion.

Speaking for the trustees, president-elect Geoff Baker stated that they were “naturally disappointed that some members have chosen to take this course of action. However, we welcome the opportunity to have a full, honest and open discussion based on accurate, factual information at the Special Meeting.” He also stressed that the financial position of the Institution is robust.

The past presidents explain why they have called for a special meeting on their website Mech Eng Matters. As well as the financial issues, the four past presidents and Christopher Simpson, who is a past chair of the IMechE’s Manufacturing Division and of its Management Group, explain their concerns about the way that the president has been prevented from doing her job as chair of the Trustee Board and criticise reduced support for the Institution’s regions, divisions and groups.

In addition, it seems that the critical motions don’t just stem from this small group of past presidents. The document continues: “We Past Presidents and Senior Fellows, and some 130 initial signatories including more Past Presidents, are so concerned about all of the above that we have gone to considerable effort, time and personal expense to call for the Special Meeting. We asked for the Motions 2 to 6. The Trustees have added their own Motion 1 to prevent the full situation from being revealed.   Some members are now so concerned about the situation at our Institution that it has been reported to the Charity Commission.”

IMechE Railway Division chairman Richard McClean advised Rail Engineer that the division’s members are “somewhat confused by the contradictions generated by the Trustees’ assurances as to the financial position of the Institution when they have seen cutbacks in the number and scope of the events that the Railway Division have been allowed by the Institution to deliver”. He added that members are “also very concerned about the extraordinary and highly unsatisfactory position that our elected President has been placed in.”

He considers that the special meeting will provide an opportunity for members to consider this unprecedented situation. With such strong language and forthright views already out in the open, it clearly promises to be an interesting evening.