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Board leaders fail to secure approval for constitutional reforms

Critics say proposals would mean transferring 'unreasonable power' to trustees

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Board of Deputies leaders have failed to secure approval for constitutional reforms on Sunday that have been the subject of lengthy debate over recent months.  

Although deputies voted 61 per cent to 39 per cent in favour of the proposed new governing structure, the officers fell narrowly short of gaining the necessary two-thirds majority. 

In December, deputies defied the wishes of their leadership and indicated support for a number of amendments – although that vote  was not binding.  

The officers then tabled a revised constitution incorporating most, but not all of the amendments for Sunday’s meeting. 

Efforts had been mounted last week to persuade deputies to give their approval for the 72 pages of new rules with a series of digital consultations. 

In a letter to deputies, the treasurer Stuart MacDonald said that the process of modernising the Board’s structure had “taken many years and a rejection of the proposed changes… will set us back and cost the Board more time and money, yet again”.  

Ben Crowne, the chair of the Board’s constitutional working group, said attempts to update the Board’s governance had begun back in 2012.  

The new constitution, he said, would “strengthen the credibility of the Board as a serious decision-making body. I worry that a continued failure to do so, after nine years of debate, could do the reverse.”  

He said plans to have new trustees with designated responsibility for youth and regions would “ensure that these groups are not marginalised as has often been the case in the past”.  

But a group of deputies at the forefront of moves to revise the proposals were also mobilising opposition last week, saying they had read the latest version with “considerable disappointment and dismay”.  

The so-called “gang of four” complained the proposals would mean “transferring unreasonable power to the Trustees. This is poor governance.”  

The four are Dr Vicki Harris (Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue), Robert Festenstein (Prestwich Hebrew Congregation), Laurence Julius (Holland Park Synagogue and Mary Regnier-Leigh (Western Marble Arch Synagogue).  

Under the proposals, the number of trustees would be extended from the current five honorary officers to 11.  

Board leaders wanted four of the additional trustees to have specific portfolios, including those for youth and regions.  

A contentious proposal to set up a nominations committee to scrutinise the suitability of candidates for the designated trustee posts was scrapped after last month’s meeting.  

But the gang of four accused the honorary officers of having  “effectively reintroduced it, giving themselves the power to specify the expertise, experience and skills that they deem necessary”.  

They were also unhappy that Sunday’s vote was due to taken just a quarter of an hour after the start of the meeting, leaving barely any time for further debate.  

Following the meeting, the Board's president Marie van der Zyl said, "The result of the vote was extremely close to the two-thirds majority required. It is crucial that the Board of Deputies has a constitution that is fit for purpose now and in the future. The proposed changes to the constitution meet these requirements."

She said the trustees would "now reflect on the vote and consider the next steps".

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