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What next for the BMC, its governance, and Sport England?

On Friday last week, 2nd March, we handed over to the BMC our work on the independent Organisational Review Group.  The final report was an amended recommendations report, following a 3 month consultation on our initial report in November.  As of last Friday, the ORG as a body was disbanded, and its members, now well versed in the complexities of the BMC, are back to their respective roles, or are simply just back to being independent BMC members.  Following a final handover conference call with Dave Turnbull (CEO), Nick Kurth (acting president) and a number of members of the ORG, I swiftly took off into Storm Emma to “conquer” the Beast from the East on Kinder Downfall.  A wholesome end to a huge period of writing and talking about climbing, rather than actually climbing.

Kinder Ice
Kinder Ice (no apologies for the top rope) Photo: Alex Messenger

The ORG’s recommendations are now in the hands of the BMC’s National Council and Executive Committee, and any implementation and working groups they set up.  They are also in the hands of BMC members.

As I write this the National Council is meeting to debate the ORG recommendations.  The expectation is that the BMC will soon inform members whether it supports and endorses the recommendations in whole or in part, and how it intends to take things forward.  They may also decide to make some amendments to the recommendations before putting them to a member vote at its next AGM, currently scheduled to be in June.  Here are a few thoughts on the process and what the BMC should do next.

The proposed structure

We have presented a structure that we feel represents, on balance, the requirements given to us:

BMC ORG Recommended organisation chart
ORG Recommended BMC organisation chart

The process and the outcome

We have presented what we feel represents the best option for the BMC, based on all the information we had available to us.  We listened and made a number of changes since November.  We haven’t provided all the finite details and all the answers, but we have worked to provide as complete a blueprint as possible, within our scope and with the resources available.  Sport England have told the BMC that the review was the most comprehensive they had seen.  The BMC will continue to work on our recommendations and provide more detail.

In some quarters the ORG has faced challenges about its independence or objectivity.  I feel honoured to have worked with such a professional group of volunteers who have diligently assimilated the views of a huge range of people, be they traditionalists or not.  No one has had undue influence, there has been full and frank internal debate, and ultimate agreement in what we have presented.  Our processes have aimed to reflect the good practices and governance we recommend.  As I have said throughout this review, the BMC cannot please all the members all the time, but it can definitely please more of the members more of the time.  This is what we should all work together to do.

The direction of travel

I am in no doubt that the BMC membership, as signalled by the feedback and surveys, agrees with the direction of travel and with a significant majority.  Some will disagree with what we have proposed, and that is their absolute right to do so. Some will disagree with certain details, and they will no doubt provide further scrutiny to the democratic process and have the opportunity to propose further amendments.

There are some that wholly disagree with the direction of travel of the BMC. I have a great respect for many of those we have debated with, including some members of the BMC30.  I don’t agree with some of their methods, or some of their views on what democracy in the BMC looks like, but I respect that they care about the BMC, they care about Climbing, Hillwalking and Mountaineering as they see it, and they value the debate.  Not everyone will end up having been on the right side of the debate, and it is the members’ prerogative as a whole to decide which side it is on.

We have been driven by creating a BMC with governance that represents best practice in the sport.  We have balanced the requirements of good governance from the Sport and Recreation Alliance, Sport England and the desires of members.  The desires of members are, amongst many other things, seek grant funding, and to have a BMC that is the steward of British Climbing, Hillwalking and Mountaineering.

Some clearly feel that taking grant funding is “dancing with the devil”, that the BMC should only be a tier 1 body, and potentially shouldn’t take grant funding.  We have worked to tier 3 requirements, because this is what is required of the BMC by Sport England. Our remit wasn’t to debate this with Sport England (more on the Sport England tiers here).

Of course the BMC could cover the shortfall of not taking grants by increasing fees, but it is not as simple as that.  It is about the role the BMC plays in the sector, as a recognised respected representative body, domestically and internationally, and a steward of funding and support for sector partners.  As a member I want to see improved and best practice governance in my representative body.  Good governance also protects the BMC from undue influence.

To say that the BMC is either tier 3 or member led is a false dichotomy.  Likewise, to say that the BMC can only be a representative or a governing body is a false dichotomy.  The road to an existential crisis for the BMC is paved with these false dichotomies, as Ray Wigglesworth QC outlined in the ORG report foreword:

“The Terms of Reference I was given in May 2017 asked the ORG to make recommendations that would represent best practice governance in the sport and recreation sector. We were not asked to question whether or not the BMC should seek to be an organisation that bids for government funding. However, we feel that it is a matter of great importance to make it clear to BMC members why we feel the BMC should seek to continue to be the recipient of Sport England funding, and comply with its Code of Governance.

If the BMC is unable to implement the recommendations required in order to meet Sport England’s Code of Governance, or if BMC members take the decision that pursuing Sport England funding is not the right choice for the BMC, we feel it would have a great detrimental effect on climbing, hillwalking and mountaineering as a whole. It will not only impact BMC funding, and funding for the great work that partners such as Mountain Training do, but we believe that it will also significantly weaken the representational position of the BMC to all its stakeholders, be they the UK Government during political lobbying, or landowners during access negotiations. Why would any government department continue to listen to a representational or governing body that does not comply with the code of governance it requires, or indeed any representative body which does not adopt good governance practices? This will impact the BMC’s recognised representational status as a whole.

We have heard during feedback that the BMC cannot be both a governing body and a democratically run representative body for its members. We maintain, however, that these two types of organisation are not mutually exclusive of each other, nor do they have separate codes of good governance. We believe, through implementation of our recommendations, that the BMC will be able to effectively fulfil both of these functions, for its members, on behalf of all climbers, hillwalkers and mountaineers.”

What next for the BMC?

With the National Council meeting today, and no doubt soon to communicate to members, here are some thoughts about what the BMC must do to take things forward effectively:

There is a significant communications challenge ahead for the BMC.  The members may broadly agree with the recommendations, but there is a hearts, minds and engagement mission. The general membership are becoming battle weary of governance and politics issues, they want it sorted now, but it must be done in conjunction with members and partners, and it takes time, despite funding and external pressures.  The BMC must engage its members, casting the net on governance decisions wider than those who routinely engage with the BMC at its Local Area Meetings and AGMs. This includes, for example, online proxy voting at AGMs, which we understand can be implemented now.

The BMC leadership, National Council and working groups must be visible and unified throughout this, act transparently, model the good governance that our recommendations aim to create, make the hard decisions, and put these decisions to members.

The implementation will need to be a phased process, project managed well, and transparent.  This will take significant resource and effort.  This resource should be agile and include a diverse subset of the BMC.

We have outlined ten recommendations that are required in order to give the Board of Directors primacy.  These are the ones critical to provide checks and balances for members, but they are not the only ones required to create a member led, well governed BMC fit for the future.  It will take many months, if not years, to consider and implement all the recommendations.  The route through to this over time must be clear, and with accountability throughout the phases.

There are some fantastic volunteers (and staff) working this weekend, be it at the National Council meeting, or at ShaFF, launching the crowdfunding Mend Our Mountains campaign.  I thank them for their patience and support throughout the ORG and I wish the BMC the best of luck, and my support, in implementing our recommendations.

Download the BMC ORG reports

The index of recommendations (March 2018): Index of Recommendations

Amendments Report (March 2018): ORG Amended Recommendations Report

ORG Full Report (Nov 2017): BMC ORG Review Full Report

BMC Membership Survey (September 2017): BMC Organisational Review Member Survey Report

Download all as a zip: ORG Reports

BMC ORG Articles: https://www.thebmc.co.uk/organisational-review-final-report

Crag Jones’ document site: https://sites.google.com/view/bmc-rr/introduction

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