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					                  A VISION FOR THE FUTURE OF THE BNC


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


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

       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

       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.


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.


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

          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.

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