The Trustees of the BCS Chartered Instutite for IT, and its Chief Executive, David Clarke, have emailed detailed responses to 50 BCS members who are calling for an Extraordinary General Meeting. The EGM is being backed by former BCS trustees, council members, and a former BCS president. They have raised concerns that the BCS has lost sight of its membership as it pursues its £5 million transformation programme to remould itself into a professional body. This is the first part of the BCS response to the rebel members, reproduced in full.
BCS Trustees and CEO response to the recent request for an EGM.
BCS today stands at a crossroads and it will be for you, our members, to decide BCS’s future. The issues that are at stake are profound and will determine whether we can progress as a professional membership based Institute into a bright future or whether we will decline into an irrelevant and failing body that would probably run out of funding before very long.
As you will know, BCS has received a request for an “Emergency General Meeting “. Although this should be for an “Extraordinary” General Meeting, we are ignoring that point. As this letter is written, we do not have a properly constituted request. All we have is a list of names on an email with no support for these names at all. Several of these names are not on our membership database, though this could just be down to the spelling on the list, and in other cases there are a number of people with the same name. In direct contrast to what has been reported, we have no problem with digital signatures, but there are some very serious accusations made in this document which the Trustees are treating as such. We need to be sure that this request, which will cost BCS a minimum of £100,000, is properly constituted. Once we have this, we will process the request as quickly as we can.
The last eighteen months have been incredibly difficult economic times for everyone, and BCS has not been immune to this. As with most organisations, we have had to focus very hard on maintaining our revenues, managing our costs and using our reserves to the maximum effect to build for the future. Few organisations of any kind have managed these as well as BCS has.
What is the result of all of this work? A small group of our members, less than 0.1% of our membership, want to censure the management of the organisation for doing this and changing BCS from what it was thirty years ago. (Their words). When you go through change of any kind, some people won’t like it, and BCS has changed significantly in recent years. In the last eight years, we have increased our membership from 36,000 members to 70,000 and the profile of our membership has also changed dramatically. The average age of our members has reduced from 45 to 37; 72 % of our members are under 49; over 60% have joined in the last six years, and, importantly, the average age of new members is just 33yrs. The percentage of women members is higher than ever and more than the industry average by some distance. Our reserves soared from £3 million in 2001 to £16 million by the end of 2008. This is not exactly the kind of data you expect to trigger a call for an EGM , even if it does take less than 0.1 % of our members to do so.
So why has this happened? Well there are some personality issues hidden away in this, with people’s aspirations no longer likely to come to fulfilment, but mostly it is a complete lack of understanding of the basic facts regarding BCS. The first major misunderstanding is that the membership organisation is self funding. In common with most other membership organisations, it isn’t, and BCS never really has been. You only have to look at BCS’s financial position when membership subscriptions were BCS’s main income stream to see that. The commercial activities of BCS have always funded the membership organisation and this year, for example, that is to the tune of £2million.
So did we reduce this subsidy this year? No, despite having to cut back on literally everything else, we have kept the amount of money we use to support our membership organisation at the same level as the previous year, which was an all time high. So were the members’ subscriptions being used to invest in transforming BCS? Again the answer is a resounding No. The substantial reserves built up in recent years, which were over and above the funding of the membership organisation, has allowed BCS to invest in the future without affecting any of the membership expenditure. Trustees anticipated that some people would not accept that BCS’s qualifications and certifications business activities fund the membership organisation in the way we have described above, and as a result they commissioned an independent audit of this whole area in recent weeks. This audit has shown our original statements to have been on the conservative side.
There has been some ill-informed and inaccurate media reporting on the call for an EGM e.g..http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/03/24/bcs_emergency_meeting_kerfuffle/
It is worth pointing out however that the norm for most organisations to have an EGM is 10% of the membership, and for BCS, as we said earlier, 50 represents substantially less than 0.1% of our 70,000 members. The reason for the normal 10% threshold is that the costs of running an EGM are proportionate to the number of members to be contacted and who vote, and the cost of this EGM to BCS will be at least £100,000. It costs £50,000 to handle the voting process. Quite an expenditure for 50 people to determine.
It is clear there is much misleading and inaccurate information in circulation. The originator of the call for an EGM has complained that BCS is not the same organisation that he joined thirty years ago. Perhaps this as much as anything else tells its own story.
One of the main accusations in the call for an EGM is that BCS senior management and Trustees focus on the BCS business activities at the cost of BCS member activities. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The harsh reality though is that, as we have said, the membership organisation of BCS is not self funding from member subscriptions.
Some people have translated this statement, somehow, into claiming that as a result the Trustees would rather not have the membership at all. This is a completely unfounded accusation. BCS is its membership and the BCS membership is BCS, but someone has to pay the bills. The Trustees and the CEO make no apology for their work in keeping the BCS in such a strong financial position.
Providing better services and facilities for our members has and will continue to be the main areas of focus for us, but it has to be paid for. We made the point earlier that this last eighteen months has been an incredibly difficult economic environment to work in, and we have had to find over £1.2 million cost savings in our operating plan this year. Not one penny of that has been taken from the funding of our member activities and we have not raised membership subscriptions for two years. In addition, to help volunteer planning, in January we committed to fund next year’s member group funding at this year’s levels, despite not yet having the full plan for next year. Again, how can this possibly be seen as not valuing or supporting our members?
One thing we do also need to make clear. Whilst not all of our commercial activities are member focussed, every single one makes a major contribution to achieving our charter goals and charitable objects.
In 2008, we realised that we had to change to survive and prosper into the future. In the past, BCS had added capabilities in small chunks out of each year’s operating plan. If we had continued down this route, we would develop very slowly over a period of years, but the requirements of our members and potential members would increasingly outstrip our ability to deliver. We needed to make a series of major changes to our capabilities and to do it quickly.
Fortunately, the tremendous performance from our commercial activities in recent years, remember our reserves soared from £3million to nearly £16 million, meant that we had the funds to invest in major change now. That is what the transformation programme has and will continue to do. Not one penny of member subscriptions, current or past, has gone into funding the programme and yet the vast majority of benefits are targeted at our membership. This can hardly be seen as putting our commercial activities in front of membership services.
What is equally clear is that this tiny minority of our members are on the point of forcing your Institute into a £100K expenditure, the cost of an EGM, when it is absolutely apparent that they have either not properly read our Charter, published strategy or Annual Report, or failed to understand them if they have. Trustee Board and our CEO are focused on the future and developing a professional institute that is relevant for current and future IT professionals, completely in line with both our Charter and our Charitable status.
In this letter we’d like to highlight just a few of the realities.
Membership Focus / Involvement
No less than 34 individual surveys have been done with various groups of our members, and accumulative totals of this communication comes to over 155,000 individual requests over the last 14 months, and we have received around 15% response – an excellent result. Satisfaction with member services is at an all time high of 83% and improves each year. More than 200 groups have already been created on our new Member Network with over 10,000 visits. Member support for our transformation has been superb and research has shown that only 3 months after launch the likelihood of our members to recommend BCS had already risen from 74% to 79%. In excess of 50% of the total spend on transformation went directly to member services and the majority of the rest into supporting BCS as a membership organisation.
As a result of this involvement, investment and professional stewardship of your Institute, our members have seen, unlike most others, their professional body grow in the last 8 years from only 36,000 members to over 70,000, whilst dramatically improving the financial health of the organisation. It is also worth noting that during the recent very difficult economic times, BCS retained every single penny of these reserves.
A full programme of communications in several ITNow issues, mailings and our website has run since the start of our transformation plans. This included full briefings to Council, BCS Top Team event in November 2008 , two AGMs and Member Conventions, and a whole host of other smaller meetings. Despite these very extensive communications we will take on board the underlying request to do more, and so in the near future, for example, there will be a number of regional road-shows. However, claims of no communication are simply wrong.
Trustees have discussed the Transformation Programme at length over the last 18 months. Within the limits of commercial sensitivity and prudence, all our funding and project management has been completely open and shared with Boards, Council and the general membership. Senior Trustees have been on the review panels of the programme from the beginning. All suppliers have been independently managed by a contracted, independent Project Director who was brought in for this specific purpose. The status of our 100+ major programmes has been reported on in detail on a monthly basis. The observations on financial management and transparency are completely ill-founded – AND we have delivered on time and under budget.
The BCS Royal Charter is very clear and it is this document, not BCS Trustees or staff, that defines our purpose. http://www.bcs.org/server.php?show=nav.6038).h
BCS has the very clear objective, defined in our Royal Charter, to promote the study and practice of computing/IT and to advance knowledge and education therein for the benefit of the public. BCS and its members are seen in the Charter, as they should be, as the same thing.
It is perhaps telling that only one of the people apparently supporting this call attended our Annual General meeting (AGM) less than 2 weeks ago. The AGM was very successful and supportive, no mention of the EGM call was made from the floor, and the meeting showed very clearly the support for our work from the membership at large.
By any measure, the current Trustees and CEO have done a tremendous job for BCS members in recent years and simply do not deserve this kind of criticism at all. One wonders what alternative strategy this small group of dissenters have for BCS. So far we have heard absolutely none.
There hasn’t been a single word of any alternative strategy whatsoever, just a series of unjustified complaints about a strategy that will secure BCS’s future.
So why has one Trustee gone to the extreme of calling such a meeting? This of course has to be answered by the person themselves, but Trustees are very disappointed that this has happened in the way it has. The person concerned only became a Trustee at the beginning of 2009 , after the major development work was completed and in the six Trustee meetings he could have attended until his resignation, he personally attended only two, the first and the last ones. Although invited to a full three hour review of the Transformation Programme on 13th November 2008, he chose not to attend although he was in the same building at the time. He “phoned in” to three Trustee Board meetings in a row, April, June and July 2009, some for only part of the meeting, and at least one of these was from a mobile phone in his car. These were the crucial review meetings of the Transformation Programme. The Trustees were particularly upset that he sent his email requesting support for an EGM whilst still a Trustee and without telling his Trustee colleagues he was doing so. This was in total contravention to the Trustee Code of Conduct. This email only came to light when recipients forwarded it to the CEO. You have to ask the question just how engaged was this individual in this whole process?
A call for an EGM is a serious matter and the Trustees and CEO are certainly treating it as such, recognising that it calls for the censure of all of these people as individuals. As I’m sure you will realise from this letter, the Trustees will robustly respond to an EGM call should it happen and are very confident that the membership at large will continue to support them as they have done in recent times. We would just rather it wasn’t going to take £100,000 to make the point.
Elizabeth Sparrow David Clarke
BCS, President BCS CEO
1st April 2010