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Gross injustice at the National Poetry Society

George Szirtes (Photo by Caroline Forbes)A MESSAGE FROM GEORGE SZIRTES
Dear Friends,

Here is a petition I hope you might be willing to sign:

Please forgive the group email, and especially if you have already signed this, but you might have noticed the story of events at the National Poetry Society, a story badly distorted and caricatured by an irresponsible press fed, it seems most likely, by Colman Getty. A full and truthful account of events is obtainable here.

Essentially the story of a director being pressured to resign in what is generally recognized as constructive dismissal. The director had just won the Poetry Society a much increased grant and within days the trustees assured that she was out on her ear in a completely unconstitutional manner, The Poetry Society Board of Trustees, recognising their vulnerability, immediately sent out to expensive lawyers without consulting the members, without their consent and at the members’ expense though they could have got free advice. They also took on Colman Getty at members’ expense. The terms of the editorship and the job descriptions of a number of people were changed without consent, procedure or consulting members. All this has resulted in the Arts Council not only suspending the awarded raise but stopping its support altogether until this mess is sorted out.

Never mind the fact that this is a society for those interested in poetry. It could have been any industry or charity and the board of trustees is comprised of people from all walks of life who should have known better.

I am being active in this because I think it is a disgraceful state of affairs, a gross injustice, and because, as a poet, I feel obliged to. Hence my name at the head of the petition, which is supported by some of the major figures in UK poetry.

Please do sign soon as we are up against time (see the petition). If you have any questions that are not addressed by the poetrysocietyuk site above, please don’t hesitate to ask me.

With best wishes,


ps Latest News via the Finance Director, Paul Ransford (his words in italics), who was one of the five major resignations following the Director’s departure:

It turns out The Society holds insurance against legal costs up to £250,000 arising out of:

“…the defence of any Legal Proceedings brought in an employment tribunal arising from a dispute with an Employee or ex-Employee relating to … the contract of employment”

In other words, the Society already held insurance which would have covered all the Harbottle and Lewis fees for the whole dispute, and more, providing, that is, the Society had –

sought and followed advice from Our Legal Assistance Advice service… before materially changing or attempting to change the particulars of an Employee’s contract of employment…

Which of course they didn’t. The Board didn’t consult anyone before materially changing the Director’s contract: not the staff, not the Arts Council, and not the Director herself, who set up the Insurance Policy and tried to tell them about it. In fact, if they’d listened to her ‘threats’, they might have realised they weren’t threats at all, but clear warnings that the Trustees were straying onto territory where they should have paused, and taken the professional and legal advice freely available.

So now we all have to pay.

Just why the bill was so high, without any action being taken by the Director, is clear from Anne-Marie Fyfe’s horrifying statement yesterday. If the law is being twisted, and used to intimidate and bully, then it will be more expensive than when it is being used in just defence. What did it cost the Society, those knots tied round a private email to silence a distinguished Director and former Chair about matters of just and public concern? £15,000? £20,000? And what must have been the personal costs to Judith Palmer and Anne-Marie Fyfe of such a gross invasion of their lives?

George Szirtes

Posted 10 years ago

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