Opinion: BCS CEO's arguments miss the bigger picture

CEO David Clarke's recent comment on the call for an extraordinary general meeting at BCS, the chartered institute for IT, cherry picks information to support a point of view, but neglects a broader picture and background.

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CEO David Clarke's recent comment on the call for an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) at BCS, the chartered institute for IT, is short and sweet, which is not surprising as it cherry picks information to support a point of view, but neglects a broader picture and background.

As has been said before, there has been a split between the business and the membership and this is no more evident than in David's comments. He says, "The membership is not self-funding." That is only true when you consider the business earnings as separate from the membership fee income. They are clearly not unless you want to prove that particular point.

The business would have little or no income without its membership base whether directly or indirectly, therefore the income generated by the whole of BCS is generated by the membership and, therefore, it is self-funding.

Members as shareholders

A fact which perhaps David is unaware of is that the business wing of the BCS was originally formed to generate income to support the membership in its charitable aims. In that respect all the money generated by the BCS belongs to the membership as the original investor. As the membership fees where used to establish the business initially, the membership can be and should be considered to be its shareholders. Any separation of business and membership is therefore derogatory to the original intent of the membership.

The business of the BCS should not be considered an entity in its own right. Even if it was to be considered a separate entity, what would be its purpose? In my view the BCS is a professional membership organisation that has a business function to help support its operation, not a business with membership fees as an income stream.

There is no doubt that David has done a great job in the past but he is now trying to separate the business and membership for a reason that is as yet unclear. In discussions with a number of members, even some quite recently joining the BCS, it is clear they think this is not the right thing to do - hence the EGM. Supporters of the EGM also come from the BCS Young Professionals Group (YPG) which is formed from members under the age of 35, so again the comment regarding wanting to live in the past is incorrect and derisory.

Perhaps David and the trustees are more out of touch with the membership than they think?

A recent quote by one of the trustees to a member group further emphasises the desire to split the BCS, the quote regarded "the future of BCS as a 'professional body' in contrast to that in the past as a 'members' club". Why can it not be both? There are many example of this being the case, for example, the Law Society, IoD, ICA etc.

Misleading numbers

David also states that, in justifying support for the membership, that budgets for this area have not been cut. Again, this only represents part of the story and is linked to his statement about the membership costing £2m more than it generates in fees.

The only member budget I know to be held was that of the member groups which is approximately 10% of the BCS total income. This was retained even though those member groups suggested that, in the light of BCS staff pay freezes during the current economic climate, the pain should be shared by all.

Further, something else that David neglected to say, is that those member groups under spend by approximately 25% every year. However, this is not the only misleading element of these numbers, assuming an average membership fee of £100 the income generated is £7m plus the £2m overspend gives a £9m spend on membership. I estimate the income of the BCS to be in the region of £20-£25m, where does the other 50%+ of the expenditure go? If there were more openness and transparency, there would be no need for an EGM.

All these statements regarding membership income and expenditure have been around for at least the last three to four years, and despite repeated requests for the figures behind them that prove the information, none has been provided to the trustees.

David's response only seems to me to reinforce the need for the EGM and votes of "no confidence" in what he and the trustee board are doing to the BCS.

The BCS must become a professional body but not at the expense of the membership that got it to that point in the first place.

What does the president say?

On a final note, there is one further thing that to me even more emphasises the split between the BCS business and its membership. Why is there no response to the call for an EGM from the most senior member of the BCS, the president?

This was last published in April 2010

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