Statement from BHAF committee re Election of Allotment Site Representatives.
A sub committee of BHAF committee members held an extraordinary meeting to address issues that had arisen during the first Site Rep elections we have overseen.
The 2014 Brighton & Hove Allotment Strategy was initiated by Brighton & Hove City Council, and is co-owned with the Brighton & Hove Allotment Federation, whose volunteers contributed over 700 hours of unpaid time. The Strategy maps out a vision for the city’s allotments to 2024 and includes a number of key recommendations. One such recommendation is “to provide greater clarity, accountability and support for the role of Site Representatives” (Site Reps.)
Site Reps play a crucial part in managing the allotments service; every allotment site should have at least one Site Rep and the larger sites need more than one depending on number of plots. Site Reps are there to represent plotholders’ views and issues to the Council, as well as to help the Council in the management of the sites (letting vacant plots, carrying out plot inspections etc). They are effectively the bridge between the two. It can be a rewarding job, but can also be quite a complex position to be in.
Until the Strategy, a large majority of Site Reps were appointed directly by the Council’s Allotment Officer. During the Strategy process however, it was decided that seeing as they were there to represent plot holders, it was not satisfactory for them to be ‘appointed’. The Strategy therefore called for all Site Reps to be elected. This is something the BHAF committee supports.
Over the last couple of years BHAF has been calling for nominations at sites for the Site Rep positions and this year was the first time that we had more nominations than positions, which therefore necessitated elections at 2 sites. According to the strategy, the election process is supposed to be run by The Council and BHAF in conjunction. However there is as yet no process agreed between us. BHAF had worked on a process itself, but when it came to be rolled out sadly we realised there were serious flaws in its implementation.
The BHAF Committee had defined a process and created two informal (non constitutional) roles, one of ‘Election Monitor’ and one of ‘Site Rep Liaison Officer. In hindsight it became apparent that we had not defined the roles sufficiently clearly and this caused confusion. In respect of the Site Rep elections, these roles were intended to provide a detached and transparent monitoring process. However having already built up relationships with the reps whose positions were being challenged, members understandably wanted to support them. This proved problematic as it was quickly seen that there was, or at least there could be perceived to be, a conflict of interest.
It also transpired that the process agreed by the Committee wasn’t being followed, and the Committee felt it wasn’t being communicated with sufficiently as to its progress.
There was also an unforeseen issue where an existing Site Rep misused their email list of tenants in order to canvas support. Not only were the emails sent inflammatory but this was also a breach of data protection by the Site Rep. The Council gives tenants’ emails to Site Reps for the sole purpose of communicating allotment business. It expects Site Reps to manage such confidential information with integrity.
Being responsible for an election is a serious undertaking, and the process should be entirely open, fair and transparent, and as free from criticism as possible. Given that it didn’t appear so to the Committee itself, and that we ourselves had serious criticisms, it was impossible for us to sanction the process going forward in its present manner. An Extraordinary Meeting of a sub-group of 7 committee members took place on 29/11/18 to discuss the issues. Minutes are linked below.
We asked the Allotment Officer to suspend the election processes until we have agreed with the Council a clearly defined process which we can enact together with the Council and roll out across the whole city. We are committed to working with the Council to find a process we can all trust in. Site Rep elections are something that BHAF strongly supports.
We also voted unanimously to suspend the informal roles of Site Rep Election Monitor and Site Rep Liaison Officer until those roles are clearly defined. Parameters need to be set to ensure that those in the roles have clear guidance to avoid any possible accusations of conflict of interest.
Generally Site Reps do an excellent job and have the full support of the sites they manage. Those reps with the support of their plot holders will probably never even face nominations for their role. However, having a vote every two years or so means that for whatever reason if plot holders feel they would like their site to be managed in a different manner or atmosphere, then they are able to make that happen.
Not everyone is entirely happy about Site Rep elections, and we can understand that people who have invested their time as volunteers might feel a little bit upset about being challenged for their role, but it is what the Strategy recommends and the BHAF Committee and the Council are bound to follow the recommendations therein.
BHAF represents the plot holders as well as the Site Reps. We believe we represent the views of the majority of both. We encourage and support the promotion of community spirit. We want sites run to be run in a friendly, inclusive and productive way, which is stress free, of benefit to mental and physical health, is environmentally conscious, with minimal chemical use, and with a focus on increasing the bio-diversity that benefits us all.
Hopefully the Council and all Site Reps can get on board with this process and recognise that if they are re-elected that it gives them endorsement in their role and if their role is voted to somebody else they can behave magnanimously in defeat. We are after all the allotment community.
We will need the support of plot holders, especially at next year’s AGM, in order to keep implementing these progressive changes that we have been working for.