Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Blog 70 - 2016 was interesting - 2017 may be too!

Last year I promised that 2016 would be interesting.  It turned out to be the case in more ways than could possibly have been foreseen!

Our Judicial Review regarding Sport England's non recognition of Bridge as a sport went ahead.  Although we were ruled against, early in January we will be in court again for application for "leave to appeal". Should that be granted we will get a full hearing before the Court of Appeal sometime later.  If the last time was anything to go by, that will generate very considerable interest from the media, and not just in England.

Our court dates with HMRC regarding the VAT status for competition bridge also went ahead.   After a second hearing in the Upper Tier Tribunal, both sides agreed to refer the case to the European Court and we expect that ruling sometime in 2017.

Also, early in the New Year, we expect to implement our new membership management system.  It has been a long time coming, but better we deal with issues before we implement, rather than after. We are aiming for an implementation in January.

As we are fast approaching the festive season I would like to send the best wishes of all EBU staff for a happy festive season and a healthy 2017.

Barry Capal

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Blog #69 - Season's Greetings

With Christmas being less than a week away all of us at the EBU in Aylesbury would like to send the best wishes of EBU staff to all of our members and many volunteers  for a happy festive season and a healthy New Year.

2015 delivered its usual array of surprises.  We had a massive year of media interest in our court cases with Sport England and HMRC.  The latter has been referred to the European Court for a ruling as our case has international connotations that can only be resolved at that level.  The former case against Sport England was resolved against us, but we have applied for leave to appeal to the Appeal Court, on advice of our Counsel.   The intense media interest from all branches of the media, was very positive and appears to have generated interest from the public in learning more about how they can get involved in bridge.

Sometime in the first part of 2016 our new membership management system will be going live.  This new system, which is very modern in software terms, will allow us to be more efficient and to provide a better service to all, our members, clubs and every part of the EBU.  We will keep you informed as to when this will go live, but we hope to achieve this with minimal disruption.

Barry Capal

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Blog #68 - The times they are a changing

The last Brighton Summer Meeting is now history.  Next year’s Summer Meeting is to be at the Winter Garden in Eastbourne.  During the next few months we will provide a lot of information about the new venue, the hotels that are available, the substantially cheaper (up to 90%!) car parking and many other things.  We sincerely hope that the new venue will prove more attractive to those people that have stayed away from Brighton due to cost, or other personal dislikes.

The EBU is facing, as has become usual, a year of change.  We have begun the process of changing our membership management system from one that is more than a decade old, and is at the end of it’s supported lifetime, to a very new and fresh system which will give us much greater flexibility in how we can serve our members.  We hope that the new system will be live in early 2016; for those who are interested the new system is called “Workbooks” and their website may be found at www.workbooks.com. We have also been testing our new members area, which is being renamed as “My EBU”; the test is publicly available at www.ebu.co.uk/members/v2. Please feel free to use it instead of using the members area.  We will be replacing the members area with the new link very soon.  “My EBU” provides far more information, including lots of extra detail regarding grading, particularly of team events, so it is well worth trying this out and at the same time, assisting with our testing.

As has already been communicated, October sees the advent of “EBUScore”, a rebadged version of Jeff Smith’s scoring software modules, after Jeff very generously donated the software to the EBU. This will be free of any licence costs to any affiliated club that wishes to use it.  Files sent to us by existing software in use by affiliated clubs will remain accepted as long as the club wishes to use it.

In the next couple of months some of our legal events are likely to get closer to a conclusion, although the legal system being what it is, we cannot be sure of how long things will take.  Our appeal against the way VAT is handled for our competitions has been referred to the European Court, as the tribunal here concluded that it was for them to determine precisely what was meant by the European VAT Directive.  We do not have a date fixed for that hearing at this time.  The second situation is regarding our Judicial Review of the definition of “sport” used by Sport England.  That hearing date is set for September 22nd/23rd.   The judgement for this hearing is likely to come well after the hearing.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Blog #67 - An update

I am fast approaching the ninth anniversary of my time with the EBU and also a similar anniversary of writing my first blog.  The frequency of my blogs has diminished over time, mainly because I have felt I have less to say, or at least less that is of interest to many!  However, here I am, suddenly with a lot to say that may be interesting to a wide group of our members.

Once again we are engaged in change; change that involves technology and how we use it.  We are in the early stages of replacing our entire membership management system, one that has served us for around 11 years and is now being retired by the company who designed it.   We believe that it will be a change that enables another substantial step forward in our efficiency and our ability to provide the very best service for our members.   It is too early to be precise, but we are aiming for an implementation of our new system before the end of 2015.  This will involve a lot you won't see, as there will be many changes in our Aylesbury office; but there will also be a lot you will see as the members interface to our systems is about to change as well, offering many new opportunities for members to obtain “self service” for their needs.  We will explain what is happening over the next few months as things begin to finalise.

We continue to consider how we can take advantage of technology with regard to our own competitions.  We now utilise Pianola to deliver our results to our members with much greater speed and detail.  We are also considering importing some other ideas for “instant reporting” of results on site, once again more information will be provided when we know when we can do it.

We have felt for a long time that we as a national bridge organisation should have within our own control a scoring system that we can not only use in our own competitions but make available to any of our counties, clubs or members that wish to use it.  We will be able to announce such a system in the very near future!

Our National Grading System seems to be gaining popularity not just with our members, but other bridge federations and even some non bridge membership organisations.  The NGS Software is very stable and now includes the grading of many team games.  One of the future developments that will come as soon as we can do it, is to improve the visibility of NGS grades for teams so that members can see more detail about how team grades are calculated – basically by showing “Cross Imp” scores.

As you may have read, we are working hard to improve the finances of the organisation.  Our ongoing challenge to the VAT authorities regarding VAT charged on our competitions reaches the next stage in July, when we have a hearing before the Second Tier VAT Tribunal.   Should we be successful this would lead to a substantial financial benefit that would give us a very nice problem to consider.  The last time that our game made an impression in the mass media was when we went to the First Tier Tribunal and lost, so it won't be too much of a surprise if the press picks up the story again fairly soon, remembering, of course, that legal decisions have a tendency to be slow in the making!  If anyone is interested in how VAT appeals can go, take a look at the following link:- httpp://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/dec/14/letuseatzeroratedcakes .  It discusses two court cases, one involving Jaffa Cakes, and one Marshmallow Cakes, involving Marks and Spencers. HMRC lost both of these cases after protracted legal proceedings; in both the court cases revolved around definitions!  In our case the same situation exists, except replace "what is a cake?", with "what is a sport"!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Blog #66 -2015 fast approaching - Interesting times?

As we are fast approaching the festive season I would like to send the best wishes of all EBU staff for a happy festive season and a healthy New Year.

2015 has the promise of being interesting for the EBU; in July (yes, it takes ages) our appeal against VAT on competition bridge goes before the "Second Tier" Tribunal.  While we have no guarantee of success, we are confident that we have a good case to put in front of this tribunal.   The benefit to us, and thus our members, should we win, would be substantial.

At the same time we are pursuing an appeal with UK Sport, regarding the definition of Sport that they choose to use which is very different to other parts of officialdom.  Once again, should we eventually meet with success in this area it could be of serious benefit to us.

We will keep you informed during 2015!

Barry Capal

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Blog 65 - NGS (again) plus a couple of other things

We have now reached the point where the changes to NGS to allow team games to be graded have settled down.  Users of the scoring software, Scorebridge, can now submit multiple teams events using the latest version, and it will be graded by NGS.  However, it remains the case that if a club desires to grade Swiss Teams, it will be necessary to use SwissTeamScorer, currently available from here.

We are receiving a large number of queries regarding perceived anomalies with a particular day's result.  In almost every case these questions are resolved by referring people to my previous blog 63. However, another thing that people miss is that if sessions are graded out of date sequence, which happens reasonably often, the grade people end up with sometimes looks wrong, but it actually isn't! It is always right.

If you want to check the sequence of sessions as graded, go to your "Sessions" list and click on the "*" character at the top right of that frame, and your sessions will then be shown in order of grading date, rather than playing date.

We will be improving the enquiry facilities for NGS during the next 6 months or so, which should improve member's abilities to solve their own problems.

Some of this work will be included in some important changes we need to make in our core computer systems over the next year or so, forced upon us by the need to keep up with constant changes in information technology.  We are in the process of deciding what system we will use going forward and hope to have it live within a year from making that decision.  We are also introducing changes to the "Member's Area" of the EBU website, to provide more and better information.

In other news, our associated charity, English Bridge Education and Development, has its own website, www.ebedcio.org.uk and it should be your first stop for anything about bridge education.

Finally, we have begun running a Really Easy Pairs event alongside some of our regular tournaments, and participation is growing nicely.  At a recent event we had two clubs running the event alongside the one at the main tournament and everyone seemed to enjoy it.  We will be running a Really Easy event at the "Year End" event in London. Why not try it?

Friday, 13 June 2014

Blog #64 - More NGS news..

In the very near future we are going to be able to grade some team games for NGS.   Swiss Teams and Multiple Teams will be graded and will be done by looking at the cross-imps (or butler imps) that the scoring program produces for the individual pairs. There will be some discipline necessary in  Swiss Teams, such that if the orientation of a pair changes the TD will have to make some changes before the round is scored.   The first team game graded will be the Scarborough teams event.

In order to accommodate the grading of teams we have had to specify an upgrade to the XML file format, which we call USEBIO XML - which stands for "Universal Standard for Exchange of Bridge Information Over XML", but we use USEBIO for ease.  In any organisation technical advancement usually means that some existing standards need to change.  In this case the XML file we need requires extra information from scoring programs.  If your club does not wish to make team games acceptable to NGS then nothing has to be done as your existing scoring program will continue to have their files accepted by the EBU in what has become "the usual" way.  However, it is worth reminding you that if you remain on what we now call version 1.0 you will be excluded from this advance and other technical advances as time goes by.

If you wish to move forward you will need to ensure that your scoring software provider produces files to the USEBIO 1.1 specification.  They can contact our office for more detail as required (michael@ebu.co.uk).

At the time of writing only the JS suite of programs from Jeff Smith comply with USEBIO 1.1.  If you wish to have team games graded or use other software that complies with USEBIO 1.1 you may need to switch to JS Software or ask your current supplier to upgrade their offering.   Details of Jeff's software are available at this link - http://homepages.nildram.co.uk/~jasmith

I hope this helps - please call or write to us if it is not clear enough for you.