A VISION FOR THE FUTURE OF THE BNC Introduction: This paper considers the future role of the British National Committee (BNC) of the World Roads Association (PIARC), in the context of declining membership over recent years. Options for arresting this decline and revitalising the organisation are examined, and in particular, the potential benefits of a closer working relationship with the Institution of Highways and Transportation (IHT) is explored. The purpose of this paper is to present the background to this issue to the Annual General Meeting, to be held on 1 July 2003, and relate the work that the sub- committee has undertaken with the conclusions and recommendations that have been made. Background: On 14 August 2002, a sub-group of the BNC Executive Committee met to consider the future of the BNC, and in particular, to address the issues of falling membership, how the organisation might be made more attractive to potential members, and how it might be organised and run more effectively. Membership has been falling steadily over recent years (as shown in table 1), and has reduced by around 35% since 1995. This clearly has implications on the financial viability of the organisation, but also jeopardises the ability of the BNC to undertake its roles and responsibilities effectively. Much of the reduced membership appears to have occurred by ‘natural wastage’, with little or no new recruitment occurring to replace those who have left. This inevitably has a ‘knock-on’ effect on the age-profile of the membership. Changes within the industry have also had a significant effect on membership; for example, changes in local highway authorities within the UK has led to different priorities regarding roads management and resulted in a reduction in the number of local authority members from 32 in 1995, to just 6 in 2003. Year Honorary Individual Collective Total 1995 5 67 73 145 1996 5 55 64 124 1997 5 60 71 136 1998 5 62 58 125 1999 5 65 57 127 2000 6 59 43 108 2001 6 54 42 102 2002 6 53 39 98 2003 6 51 37 94 Table 1: BNC Membership 1995-2003. From Table 1, it can be seen that membership declined most sharply in the year following a World Congress (down by 21 in 1996, and 19 in 2000). If this trend were to be repeated after the Durban congress in 2003, membership could drop below 80. As part of the review process, a discussion paper was drafted by the then Honorary Secretary, Stephen Phillips, examining the organisation and membership of the BNC, and considering the organisation of National Committees in other WRA member countries. One potential way forward identified was to develop closer relationships with an organisation such as the Institution of Highways and Transportation (IHT), in order to improve communication to members, widen the potential audience, and utilise the effective secretariat support of a larger membership based organisation. Subsequent meetings of the sub-group have been held on a regular basis to discuss the issues further, reporting back to the Executive Committee; and exploratory meetings have also taken place with Mary Lewis (Chief Executive) and Carlton Roberts-James of the IHT, to determine their reaction to such a proposal. The issue was discussed at a subsequent meeting of the IHT Executive Committee, who were happy in principle to pursue the proposal, subject to detailed agreements regarding structure and finance. Government Support for WRA and the BNC: As a full member of WRA, the UK Government pays an annual subscription toWRA, currently set at £12,400. This is paid directly to WRA Headquarters in Paris, and, unlike the individual/collective subscriptions, no part is retained by the BNC. By providing the staffing and accommodation for the Secretariat of the British National Committee, the UK Government, through the Highways Agency, also makes a contribution in kind which supports the day-to-day running of the BNC. This contribution has been evaluated at approximately one person-year, or around £50,000 per annum. The UK Government’s Department for International Development (DfID) supports the WRA programme for sponsoring engineers from developing countries (currently Kingstone Gongera from Zimbabwe, and Cheng Ping from China), and this is also administered through the BNC secretariat. Consultation with BNC Members: On 5 November 2002, a letter was sent to a selected sample of BNC members (14 in all, from across the range of member organisations), seeking their views on the future of the BNC, and in particular, what could be done to arrest the decline in membership, and re-vitalise the organisation. Responses were received from half of the recipients, with the key points raised being as follows: Because of the breadth of its involvement in roads issues, WRA and BNC is primarily aimed at road operators and policy makers, rather than traditional ‘road builders’. The role of the BNC should concentrate on the interaction between the UK and international community, and not duplicate the roles of the professional engineering institutions, or bodies such as the DfT Roads Liaison Group. Individuals and companies subscribe to the BNC to gain some influence over policy-makers, and to gain knowledge, market awareness, etc. There are now a wide range of technical conferences and seminars available, dealing with many aspects of highway operation and engineering. The BNC should not attempt to duplicate these, but should try to develop its own identity (i.e. the international dimension, or targeted issues such as more efficient use of road space). Communications within WRA are poor, and the impression given is that of a comfortable ‘club’, rather than an active ‘cutting-edge’ organisation. BNC needs to promote WRA more effectively within the wider profession. WRA and the BNC have an important role to play in sharing international experience, for example, in carrying out international comparisons, and identifying ‘best practice’. The benefits of involvement in WRA technical committees should be communicated better, particularly within the organisations that BNC members represent. BNC should ‘benchmark’ itself against other ‘successful’ national committees, for example, those of Australia and Japan. The change in the membership profile of the BNC is linked to changes in government procurement practices, such as the out-sourcing of local authority highway services, which has led to a decline in membership from county councils. Exit interviews (not just written questionnaires) should be conducted with those who have left BNC in recent years, to determine the reasons why they have not maintained their membership. There was also a widely-held view that the names of both PIARC and the BNC should be changed, to give a more meaningful indication of the roles and objectives of the two organisations. The Role and Functions of a National Committee: The role of a National Committee, as defined by WRA, is as follows: “Member national governments of the World Road Association (PIARC) may create National Committees or equivalent organizations. The National Committees and equivalent organizations will serve the country concerned by: a) channelling information from PIARC to a national audience; b) channelling information on the national situation to an international audience through PIARC; c) identifying and proposing to their First Delegates specialists to participate in the work of Committees and supporting them; d) providing a national focus for the activities of PIARC; e) ensuring that national membership administration tasks are carried out for PIARC. PIARC will share subscription income with National Committees or equivalent organizations. PIARC will recognize an organization as a National Committee or equivalent organization if the Executive Committee is satisfied that it: a) is recognized by the relevant member national Government to be qualified to act as the National Committee or equivalent organization; b) has an institutional character which will allow it to have a continuous relationship with the international activities of PIARC in a way that is consistent with the mission and values of PIARC; c) is active in (or has a viable plan for) channelling international information on road-related issues to its interested national organizations, collective and individual members. However, while the functions of a National Committee are clearly described, WRA HQ does not dictate the organisational arrangements used to undertake this role, and several different models exist around the world. Options for Future Development: In considering the ways in which the BNC might develop in the future, there appear to be four broad options, namely: to continue in its present form; to disband; to model itself on one of the other (successful) WRA National Committees; or to join forces with another organisation. These are discussed below: i. Continue in present form: This is the ‘easy option’ in terms of making decisions now, but if membership is allowed to decline much further it may not be long before the BNC ceases to be a viable organisation. Membership has fallen from 145 to 94 over the past 8 years (i.e. a 35% decline), and if this falls any further, the share of subscriptions that the BNC retain will soon be insufficient to cover the organisation’s running costs. Individual membership appears to have declined primarily through ‘natural wastage’, as long-term members reach retirement age and leave the profession. These are not being replaced through the recruitment of new, younger members, and consequently the age profile of the individual membership is increasing. Collective members tend to take a more businesslike approach, retaining their membership only while they can see that the aims and activities of the organisation are relevant to their own commercial activities. The largest drop in collective members has been within the local government sector, which has fallen from 32 in 1995 to just 6 in 2003, as changes in the way the local road network is managed has reduced the ‘informed client’ role of local highway authorities. Concern over falling membership is not simply based on financial viability – without a broadly-based membership covering all ages and specialisms involved in the roads industry, the BNC will not be able to effectively fulfil the key roles and responsibilities of a National Committee, as described in the previous section of this report. As it seems unlikely that any action can be taken within the current organisational framework to reverse the declining membership and re-vitalise the organisation, it is now clear that a more radical approach is required. ii. Disband the BNC: Of the 102 member countries of WRA, only 30 currently have a recognised National Committee. It is therefore perfectly possible that the UK could maintain its interest in WRA without having to retain the BNC. This would leave the UK in a similar relationship to WRA HQ as, say, the USA, with the First Delegate as a Government appointment, and would not (necessarily) affect the UK membership of technical committees. Disbanding the BNC would also remove the Highways Agency’s commitment to provide the secretariat. However, the down-side of this option would be a reduced flow of information on international issues and less UK influence over WRA decisions. As the BNC receives government support, disbanding the organisation would remove the opportunity for industry to use this channel to influence political decisions. Disbanding the BNC would also send a negative message to the rest of the world regarding the UK commitment to the WRA, and international issues in general. This is not, therefore, regarded as an acceptable option. However, it should be noted that if decisive action is not taken soon, this option is likely to happen by default. iii. Other National Committee Organisations: As previously noted, other National Committees are structured in a range of different ways, and it may be worth undertaking further comparison and benchmarking of these, particularly those that are perceived as being active and successful (such as Australia and Japan). Details of the Australian National Committee (Austroads) were given in Stephen Phillips’ original discussion paper. Another interesting model is that of Spain, where the role of the National Committee is undertaken by of their equivalent professional engineering institution, so that membership of the institution automatically confers membership of the National Committee. However, while there are some interesting examples of different forms of organisation, none of those examined to date appear to offer the radical change that is now required to re-vitalise the BNC. iv. Partnership: Stephen Phillips’ original discussion paper clearly identified some form of partnership arrangement with another organisation as being the most effective means of overcoming the problems currently experienced by the BNC. Subsequent consultations have not changed that view. The key objectives of such a partnership would be to enlarge and diversify the membership, to improve communications with members and WRA headquarters and to improve the efficiency of administration functions, such as the maintenance of membership details, collection of subscriptions and management of accounts. The partner organisation would therefore need to have a broad membership covering similar fields of interest to those of WRA , an efficient communications network (newsletter, journal, website, etc), and effective systems for administration. To ensure that a sustainable, long-term partnership could be developed, there would need to be mutual benefits for both parties, so that one wasn’t perceived to be ‘carrying’ the other. Broader characteristics of the two organisations, such as ethical stance, financial motivation, etc, would also need to be compatible. Given all of the above requirements, the type of organisation that would seem most appropriate would be an engineering institution or professional body, such as the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), or the Institution of Highways and Transportation (IHT). These are membership/subscription-based organisations, with a large membership covering technical interests compatible with those of WRA, and with well-established, efficient communication networks. They are also highly respected within the engineering profession, have a similar ethical stance to that of WRA, and are essentially ‘not-for-profit’ organisations. Proposed Partnership with IHT: Of the potential partner organisations referred to above, the prime ‘contender’ was considered to be the Institution of Highways and Transportation, whose membership and objectives were seen to be most compatible with those of WRA and the BNC. It was also noted that the IHT has had a long association with WRA and the BNC, having been a collective member since 1930. The IHT currently has a membership of around 10,000, and is regarded as being a ‘stable’ organisation, with no current plans for radical change or merger with another body. Being a membership-based organisation, it was felt that the administrative functions of the BNC (e.g. maintenance of membership records, collection of subscriptions, distribution of newsletters and other correspondence, etc) could be more efficiently undertaken by the IHT. Additionally, with a broader membership profile, covering all aspects of highway operation and engineering, as well as a more inclusive age range, the IHT could be more effective in disseminating the WRA message. In return, association with WRA would enhance the IHT’s international activities, an aspect that IHT are keen to improve. Preliminary discussions have taken place with Mary Lewis and Carlton Roberts- James of IHT, and the issue has also been discussed at a meeting of the IHT Executive Committee, who indicated that they were happy with the proposal in principle, subject to agreement on structure and finance. Potential Benefits of Partnership with IHT: The principal benefits of the proposed partnership with the IHT are those which arise from being part of a much larger organisation, such as the diversity of membership, including the younger/graduate members that are now such a rarity amongst the existing BNC membership. Partnership with IHT will also give access to a more effective framework for the dissemination of WRA information, not only via newsletters and the website, but also through regular meetings and seminars, giving a greater emphasis on continuous professional development. Economies of scale with regard to administration of the organisation (maintaining membership records, collection of subscriptions, etc) should result in savings in running costs. There will also be benefits for the World Road Association centrally, as its profile will be raised within the UK. However, this will only be sustainable if the objectives of the organisation are more clearly defined. These will need to remain consistent with those of WRA internationally, but also embrace specific interests and changes in the transport agenda within the UK, possibly extending to other modes of transport, to ensure that the organisation is attractive and relevant to a wide range of transport professionals. This should also be coupled with a change of name, to give a clearer indication of the nature and purpose of the organisation. As noted earlier, the proposed change would also benefit the IHT, providing the Institution with an international dimension that it currently lacks. Options for Organisational Structure: The degree to which the IHT would become involved in the running of the BNC is clearly open for discussion. Options could range from effectively acting as a ‘sub- contractor’ to the existing secretariat, through to full integration, taking over all of the functions currently undertaken by the Highways Agency. The BNC might therefore become a specialist sub-committee of the IHT, with the UK First Delegate (as the government representative) having a ‘guaranteed’ seat on the committee. The way in which the committee might be constituted would need to be agreed, with one suggested model being a partnership between the IHT, industry, academia and local/central government. There are also a number of questions to be resolved regarding the structure of membership and subscriptions. For example, would membership of BNC be independent of IHT membership, a voluntary add-on, or fully integrated into IHT membership. While the latter option would simplify the organisation and reduce administrative costs, it would also raise additional complications with regard to collective membership, calculation of the WRA HQ contribution, and how non-IHT members might join the BNC. It is understood that IHT are currently considering some form of collective/company class of membership, which if adopted, might be compatible with WRA collective membership. One of the concerns raised by the IHT in preliminary discussions was resources/costs involved in taking over the administrative role currently undertaken by the Highways Agency. While it is essential, in the longer term, that the organisation becomes financially self-sustaining, the Highways Agency has agreed, in principle, to provide some financial support (yet to be quantified) during a transitional period. This aspect would be subject to further detailed discussions between IHT and HA, once the overall ‘way forward’ had been agreed. At a subsequent meeting with Mary Lewis and Carlton Roberts-James on 16 June 2003, it was agreed that a brief or ‘job description’ of the roles to be adopted would be prepared, together with a time-line for the transitional arrangements over the next four-yearly cycle. This would form the basis for estimating the costs of the transitional arrangements, and for IHT to develop a ‘business plan’ outlining their proposals for the combined organisation. The brief would need to contain the core requirements regarding the identity and objectives of the organisation, the role of government and the First Delegate, and the rules concerning the payment of subscriptions to WRA Headquarters, but in other respects should be left as ‘open’ as possible, so as not to unduly constrain the IHT. While it is clear that action needs to be taken soon to prevent the terminal decline of the BNC, it was felt that the existing arrangements should be continued at least until after the Durban Congress in October 2003, with the beginning of 2004 being a more realistic target. This would, however, depend on how quickly subsequent consultations between the affected parties could be progressed. The next step for the BNC is clearly to discuss the issues at the Annual General Meeting in July. If approved, the First Delegate would then be invited to make a presentation to the IHT Council meeting in Edinburgh, on 4th September 2003. Conclusions: Having considered the options available, the sub-group has concluded that the best way for the BNC to overcome the current problems associated with falling membership would be to work in partnership with another membership-based organisation, the preferred partner being the Institution of Highways and Transportation. Preliminary consultations with the IHT have indicated that they are keen to explore this opportunity. Detailed issues regarding the extent of collaboration, integration of membership, subscription levels/classes, etc, have yet to be decided, and will be subject to further discussions within BNC and IHT. While the long-term objective must be to create an organisation that is self-sustaining, it will also be necessary to establish some realistic transitional arrangements involving some financial support from the Highways Agency while the secretariat functions are transferred over to the new organisation. The overall timescale for change has also to be agreed, but needs to be relatively swift if the decline in membership is to be arrested before it becomes irreversible. The sub- group has concluded that the existing arrangements should remain in place until after the World Roads Congress in Durban (October 2003), but that the proposed changes should come into effect soon afterwards, say, from the beginning of 2004. This should give sufficient time for the necessary consultations to take place within, and between, the affected organisations and other stakeholders, and discussion of this issue at the BNC Annual General Meeting on 1st July 2003 is seen as the next step in this process. Radical action is now required to address the problems currently facing the BNC. It must be recognised that this is not solely about membership levels and financial viability, but also about ensuring that WRA and the BNC remain respected and relevant organisations in the 21st century, with a role to play in the ongoing debate on transport and a vital link between highway practitioners in the UK and overseas. Recommendations: It is recommended that: The BNC National Committee should continue consultations with the IHT, with a view to achieving integration of the two organisations as soon as is reasonably practicable. This process would include a presentation by the First Delegate to the IHT Council meeting on 4th September 2003. A brief detailing the specific core requirements for the BNC be submitted to the IHT, to enable them to prepare a business plan for the combined organisation for the four-year cycle 2003-2007, including transitional arrangements. Formal approval to be sought from the Highways Agency to provide a financial contribution to the IHT to cover administrative costs during a transitional period. Mark Neave Honorary Secretary, British National Committee 20 June 2003.