The Ramblers in crisis.doc - The Ramblers in crisis_ what is to be

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					The Ramblers in crisis: what is to be done?
Introduction

The Ramblers’ Association is in crisis.

Less than a decade ago we secured the passage onto the statute book of the CROW Act 2000
which, after a campaign dating back to the 1980s, gave us in significant part the long desired
right to roam. In parallel with this long-running crusade and in the following years we were
prosecuting public-path cases in the courts, and vigorously publicising them.1 We thus
achieved a higher and higher profile among those who use rights of way. In consequence,
more and more of them joined us, until in 2003 the Ramblers’ membership reached
140,320─and the staff and trustees were seriously planning to reach 170,000 by 2007. This
did not seem unrealistic: after all membership had been increasing year by year since the
1950s.

Within the last six years that bright hope has been shattered. Since 2003 our membership has
fallen each year and stands now (Dec 2009) at only 122,600, a loss of more than 12 per cent
in seven years. Today the forward financial planning of the association is predicated on a con-
tinuing decline in numbers.

The decline of membership is only the most visible feature of the crisis, and it may ultimately
prove the most damaging. But, in addition, the association has also suffered severe misman-
agement and a loss─at the centre─of its sense of purpose.

How are we to put this right? In a classic bit of management-speak the current chief execu-
tive, Mr Tom Franklin, said in Walk [Winter 2009]: ‘… we cannot stand still; we must build
on our many achievements from the past, to take the Ramblers into the 21st century and re-
main relevant for the future.’ Nobody can possibly disagree with a statement so blandly obvi-
ous; but most of think that as 2010 dawns we are already well into the 21st century. It is time
for leadership not clichés.

The basis for recovery

The basis for recovery from decline is set out in the motions printed at the end of this paper,
motions which have been gathering support among RA areas since they were promulgated by
the meeting of Concerned Ramblers in Leeds on 26 September 2009. If these motions are ap-
proved at General Council in April 2010 the trustees and the staff will have to rethink their
principles and direction. Already the association’s establishment has felt obliged to put on the
Whittaker-Franklin roadshow, in which the chairman and the chief executive travel around
the country addressing regional meetings and trying to field criticism from activist members,
none of which would have been necessary if trustees and senior staff had continued the earlier
practice of the association whereby area and group agms and rambles were regularly ad-
dressed by its leaders in good times as well as bad. Trust cannot be rebuilt in a few months of
panicky special meetings. Trust comes from frequent and regular contacts made willingly
whatever the Ramblers’ weather. These contacts have been seriously lacking in recent years,
especially on the part of salaried senior managers.

Mismanagement

(1) Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

The association has suffered and is still suffering from mismanagement of the membership
record system. Customer Relationship Management is its patronising title (members of the
RA are not customers of central office but its employers) and it has proved an unqualified
disaster. In the words of the current treasurer, Jonathan Kipling, it was ‘unfit for purpose in so
far as it failed to meet the needs of either the membership secretaries in groups, areas and
countries or central office …’.2 (He calls it ‘the CRM debacle’.) Yet only a couple of months
after Mr Tom Franklin’s appointment as chief executive officer (CEO), the trustees had been
assured by the staff of the system’s viability, a false assurance for which he must take some


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responsibility. CRM duly ‘went live’ in January 2008 and everyone involved with it has been
picking up the pieces ever since. It is impossible to overestimate the demoralisation of volun-
teers─spreading from the struggling membership secretaries into every area and group com-
mittee─which this has caused. The repeated false claims by central office that the system is
being improved, made workable or is on the way to being fixed etc have only added incredu-
lity to depression.3

The official line is that the previous system (which although more than 20 years old still
worked) had to go. Unfortunately the new system, introduced with the help of consultants
who no doubt took their fees, has flopped. Concerned Ramblers believe that responsibility for
this should be apportioned and any staff or trustees who share it should be disciplined or dis-
pensed with.

[See motion 1 at end of this paper.]

(2) The May massacre

The most distressing element of the crisis for many of us has been the savage cuts in staff
agreed by the trustees in May 2009, when 17 of our employees, many of whom had served for
many years and were regarded by the association’s activists as colleagues and friends rather
than officials, were made redundant at a cost of £0.25m, but the costs in efficiency and inspi-
ration to the association of the loss of so many experienced people at a single blow will be far
greater and will be felt for years ahead. This too was mismanagement, as will appear.

The Ramblers’ Association in recent years has lacked individuals at the most senior manage-
ment level who stayed for more than a few years or sometimes a few months. Between De-
cember 2005 and September 2007 there were seven chief executives (substantive, acting, in-
terim or joint), three directors of finance & resources (substantive and interim) up to April
2008, three directors of campaigns & policy─and there was no director of marketing and
communications until the summer of 2007. The treasurer, who spells this out in his report on
the financial situation to the trustees, refers euphemistically to a ‘considerable turn-over of
senior staff’.4. Chaotic discontinuity would be a more accurate description. We do not think
that the trustees grasped the seriousness of this or did anything about it, and we believe that it
contributed to the failure to grasp the underlying financial and membership problems.

In the same report the treasurer claims that the sudden collapse in income which gave rise to
the massacre was not foreseeable, because it only emerged in an obvious form in the quarterly
management accounts published in mid-April 2009. Perhaps so, but an alert board of trustees
supported by competent financial staff would have understood in advance of Spring 2009 that
the national and global economic situation was bound─sooner or later─to impact heavily on
the association’s income. The credit crunch began in the USA in 2006 and the UK went for-
mally into recession in the second quarter of 2008, but of course the national and international
financial situation had been getting worse for many months before that. Remember that in this
country the first unmistakable sign of the coming economic blizzard was the collapse of
Northern Rock as long ago as September 2007.

No action by the association could have avoided the financial problem, but forethought would
have helped to alleviate it. In the spring or summer of 2008, at the latest, the chief executive
and his senior managers should have warned the trustees and the staff and (we would like to
think) the membership of dangers ahead. In the outside world returns on investment incomes
were down, everyone was looking for ways to save money and not to spend more, unem-
ployment was rising and anyone with a mortgage was aware that repossessions were again a
fact of life. All this─wasn’t it obvious?─was bound sooner or later to reduce the revenues on
which the association depends, but the blizzard blew unheeded around the trustees and their
staff advisers.

As late as their meeting of 21 February 2009 the trustees had still received no warning of the
impending smash. The trustees’ minute (24/09) on the management accounts for finance
(quarter 1) is complacent. ‘The Board noted that the income was down from what was ex-
pected. The membership income was short of budget by £39k, however this was £31k better


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than this time last year.’ Neither the membership figures nor legacy income gave rise to any
reported concern. We were on a collision course with the iceberg, but the guys on the bridge
had not noticed.

It was in the spring or summer of 2008─before they were forced upon us─that steps to amend
the financial situation should have been taken. There were a number of possibilities. A salary
freeze or salary reductions across the board combined with some voluntary redundancies
would have been useful. New hirings could have been halted. Nobody would have liked them,
but such measures could have at least mitigated the May massacre. Almost certainly such
measures would have led to some staff leaving voluntarily for other jobs and, while this
would have placed strains on remaining staff, would have helped relieve the severity of the
May redundancies. The costs of Walk could have been slashed and few people would have
noticed; in hard times a far less lavish magazine, but one focused on the RA’s central cam-
paigns and purposes would cost less and serve the association better. We did not have to have
a new logo. (It didn’t cost much but the ‘re-branding’ exercise demonstrates that senior man-
agement was focused on irrelevancies when it should have been concerned about money and
falling membership.)

And, if the trustees and senior managers had had the courage to face the membership frankly
with a realistic scenario at this stage, it might have been thought wise to increase subscription
rates more significantly than has been done to meet the emergency, or to launch an appeal to
the members for financial help. Some of us remember when in times of financial difficulty the
association would launch a fighting fund to help tide us over─and how successful such ap-
peals to the members were. We cannot now assess how useful such expedients would have
been; what we do know is that they were not considered, let alone implemented.

In other words, the RA’s establishment sleepwalked into the May crisis.

(3) Underlying financial failures

We need spend little time on these, because the treasurer has analysed them in some detail in
the report of his inquiry (footnote 1 above).

They include over-reliance on legacies, ever larger deficit budgets funded from reserves, and
in the financial field insufficiently skilled staff. These faults have persisted over many years.
The treasurer has also made recommendations for putting them right, which we understand
the trustees have accepted. Whether the present trustees and senior management, in view of
their previous failings, are the right people to implement a radical programme of financial
reform is doubtful.

The charitable question

The RA first obtained charitable status in the 1960s when this was seen correctly as a tax ad-
vantage and as an inducement to charitable donors to make grants. Concerned Ramblers be-
lieve that the association’s interpretation of what is required of it as a charity now needs to be
reviewed.

This concern arises immediately from the handling by the trustees of the present situation.
The delegates to General Council in April 2009 could and should have been warned that a
serious financial crisis was likely. They constitute the most representative body in the associa-
tion and nearly all of them owe their positions to election by the rank and file; in fact they
were informed only that there had been ‘budget deficits over the last five years’ which had
been offset by legacies and that ‘we are living beyond our means’. Although these warnings
were clearly serious, delegates were given no hint that a grave crisis was only weeks away,
yet it is clear that the CEO and senior management were already aware of what was about to
happen. The treasurer, in the report quoted above, states that what he calls ‘the trend’ i.e. the
substantial fall of income in 2009 ‘had become obvious by the time the management accounts
were produced for Q2 [the second quarter] (published mid April 09)’, i.e. shortly after Gen-
eral Council. However, it is clear that during the first week in April when GC met, Mr Frank-




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lin and his finance director (Mr Paul Butler) knew very well what was about to hit them and
us.

At the Board of Trustees’ post-General Council meeting on 4 April, the CEO informed the
board of the ‘difficult financial situation’ and told them that SMT (the Senior Management
Team) ‘were taking immediate steps to reduce expenditure for the remainder of the year’ and
that many of these steps ‘were likely to be unpopular and difficult’.5 He could have said the
same to council delegates, but did not. Indeed, the treasurer in his report to the trustees (para-
graph 6.1.4) considers whether there was a cover-up at General Council and significantly fails
to rule out deliberate deception of the delegates. He says: ‘It is clear that timing of these diffi-
culties was unfortunate. My personal view is that whilst the management may [at the time of
council] have begun to identify the problem as serious, it would have been inappropriate to
announce it before the management and trustees had determined a course of action and told
the staff if it was inevitable that redundancies would occur.’ It is clear that the treasurer, who
was present at the post-council meeting of the trustees has either forgotten or ignored the
CEO’s words.

There are two things to say about the treasurer’s statement. It is of course in the first place a
denial of the democratic principle on which the RA was founded and in the light of which it
has, until recently, been so successful. Democrats don’t put matters to one side because they
are ‘inappropriate’; they take local officers and the members at large into their confidence and
obtain their views on what should be done. (Apart from the ethics of this, it ensures that, if
unpleasant measures have to be taken, they get a smoother ride.) Secondly, the treasurer says
that the staff and trustees had to decide what to do before informing the organisation at large
(our emphasis). This is Soviet-style consultation. And in view of this direct denial of the de-
mocratic process, General Council should consider whether Mr Kipling is an ‘appropriate’
person to continue as the association’s treasurer.

This single, brief paragraph of a belated report by a treasurer who took office only last April
encapsulates much of what is wrong with the running of the RA today.

The effect was that council delegates had no opportunity to express their views on what the
priorities should be if cuts had to be made. Instead the crisis was kept entirely secret from
members (although the Scottish press got hold of the story of the proposed closure of our
Scottish office) and it was not until July 2 that the chairman and CEO found the time or the
courtesy to write to areas and group officers to inform them of what had been done. Even now
(Dec 21 09) they have not communicated the facts to the membership at large. Members other
than area and group office-holders have had only Mr Franklin’s statement in the Winter 2009
issue of Walk. This is a masterpiece of concealment which calls in question both the CEO’s
common sense and candour.

In his own signed regular column (‘A message from the Ramblers’) Mr Franklin does not deal
with our problems, but on page 15 there is a short unsigned article (headed ‘Ramblers plans
for stronger future’) which begins with the usual windy words and plucked-from-the-air fig-
ures about ‘many exciting targets’. About halfway through the article Mr Franklin is quoted:
‘Like many charities, the Ramblers has been affected by the worst post-war recession. We
have had to reduce our spending and raise subscription rates for the first time in two years.
But, as a result, our finances are stable and we’re stronger for the future.’ Note that Mr Frank-
lin invites members to suppose that the crisis is due to the recession─and to nothing else. Yet
the treasurer (in the report cited above) had just spelled out to him and the trustees the under-
lying problems of over-dependency on legacies and failure properly to track fund-raising.
Note that the CEO does not mention the scale of the cuts. Note the facile optimism, for which
there is so little foundation. Note above all that the CEO is not prepared to share with mem-
bers the fact that 17 staff have just been booted out and that the Scottish and Welsh operations
of the RA have been reduced to shadows of their former selves.

Both General Council and the members have been treated with contempt. We believe that the
CEO and his management team were deliberately economical with the truth at the time of
general council. Nor had they fully taken the trustees into their confidence at that stage (see




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note 5). What is clear is that the CEO has no business running an organisation which purports
to be democratic.

The fact is that the Board of Trustees and the Chief Executive have acquired a degree of un-
accountability which must be reversed. General Council today has little control over them.
Time was when the RA’s constitution made it clear that council instructed the trustees who in
turn instructed the chief executive and his or her staff on policy─and to a considerable degree
its implementation. No doubt the senior and some middle-rank staff groaned about the time
they spent receiving instructions from the trustees (then usually called the executive commit-
tee) and also in constructive and friendly consultation with them; nevertheless, under this
hands-on regime the RA campaigned successfully, path-obstructers were prosecuted and fined
and membership steadily rose. But the current memorandum of association of the Ramblers’
Association (which has replaced the constitution) provides no such chain of command.

Its key clause (11.5) reads:

      In exercising their powers, the Board of Trustees must comply with the terms of a Coun-
      cil Members’ Motion, which is passed at a meeting of the General Council or by a postal
      ballot of Council Members in accordance with the Standing Orders, EXCEPT TO THE
      EXTENT THAT such compliance, in the reasonable opinion of the Board of Trustees after
      full and diligent consideration, would not be in the best interests of the Association, or
      would be likely to result in a breach of statute or other law, contract, trust or duty of care
      by the Association, or in a legal claim against the Association. At the next Annual Gen-
      eral Meeting of the General Council the Board of Trustees shall explain what action has
      been taken on a such a Council Members’ Motion.6

This clause, once the legalese is removed, gives total power over the RA to the trustees. They
are empowered to decide (and they have a wide range of grounds on which to do so) whether
a council resolution shall be obeyed or not. They decide what is ‘in the best interests of the
Association’ or not. And of course, if they choose to cede their power to the CEO they may do
so.

It is of course also true that the deliberate degradation of council as a democratic instrument
(in 2009 its business was crammed into a single day) has meant that the trustees do not need
to use these powers, but they set the ambience within which the trustees work and they col-
our, as we have seen in the present crisis, the trustees’ attitude towards the volunteer members
who run the Ramblers throughout the country.

The constitutional changes and the shifts in relationships between trustees, council staff and
the wider membership have generally been sold to the association on the grounds that this is
what is required of a modern charity, if it is to retain that status. We are by no means sure that
this is the case, and if it is the case we need at least to consider whether or not we are paying
too high a price in lack of members’ control over the organisation for the benefits of this
status or whether it is not possible to restore a degree of democratic control while remaining a
charity.

[See motion 2 at end of this paper.]

What are the Ramblers for?

Concerned Ramblers put the promotion and protection of the rights of way network (rural and
urban), the securing of access to open country and to the coast at the heart of the association’s
work. We have no doubt that it is for our work and success in this field that the great majority
of members have joined the association, and that this will remain the reason why most will
join us in future. The protection of the countryside and the extension of the pleasures and
benefits of walking to ever-widening strata of society are natural corollaries to these core pur-
poses.

The three motions on the subject which we propose are designed to ensure that the trus-
tees─and through them the CEO and staff─grasp this simple principle and act accordingly.


                                                                                                       5
The trustees and senior managers have made a good deal of noise in recent months about how
devoted to the protection of rights and way and access they are. They have done so because
clear moves to downgrade the importance of these policies have been made in the last few
years and these moves have led to opposition within the association. The Legal Panel which
sifted and assessed rights-of-way cases for possible prosecution has gone, and with it the spe-
cial emphasis we gave to this work. A namby-pamby tendency led by the CEO to talk about
‘the walking environment’ rather than rights of way, footpaths and freedom to roam has de-
veloped. The platform’s opposition at General Council 2009 to the Manchester Area motion
which would have restored the priority of footpath work belies the CEO’s claim to put foot-
paths first.

In a briefing document7 issued to trustees and managers to help them answer questions at area
AGMs, it is claimed that ‘the budget for legal and expert advice for the current year is
£133k─that is higher than was spent in each of the past three years’. But has the expenditure
on legal cases taken to or defended in the courts also been increased? Perhaps, but if so why
not say so?

Concerns about the commitment to rights of way work have been increased by the Ramblers
Business Plan 2009/10. The budget in this document for ‘Walking Environment Campaigns
and management’ (the closest the plan comes to mentioning rights-of-way work) is £540,000
out of a total expenditure by the association of £5,058,000 (i.e. 10.6 per cent). This compares
to £572,000 for Marketing & Communications and £1,216,000 on Operations. The £540,000
for the walking environment appears to include ‘Pursue legal action where appropriate and
within budget, particularly on cases of national relevance or to overturn precedence’,

This budget for rights of way is grossly insufficient for an association ‘absolutely committed
to ensuring access to all footpaths’; and it is deeply worrying that funding for legal work,
whose costs are notoriously unpredictable, has presumably to be found from the already in-
adequate budget. In effect the RA has now been rendered toothless in its rights of way work,
because it lacks the will and the resources to undertake legal action where other methods have
failed.

Concerned Ramblers are deeply alarmed by the Business Plan’s proposals for the Walking
Environment. We have no problems with the plans for access, nor do we criticise other pro-
posals under the heading ‘Good Quality Walking Environment’. But the objective ‘Unblock,
save, or newly-record 500 footpaths’ (page 14) is worthless. 500 paths are a drop in the ocean
and a management with a better grasp of the facts of rambling life would know that. And of
course we would all like to increase ‘urban media coverage’ (page 16), but it is difficult to
distinguish urban from any other media which suggests a gimmicky afterthought by the au-
thors rather than a serious plan.

Concerned Ramblers want the association to return to the not distant days when news stories
which we had generated were regularly at the top of the page in serious newspapers, our offi-
cers and trustees were frequently interviewed on the Today programme and were no strangers
to TV studios. In that era too it was normal practice for Central Office to arrange TV events on
path and access issues with the help and presence of area and group volunteers. One reason,
perhaps the main reason, for our declining membership is that potential recruits do not see
that Ramblers in print, on film or on the air as often as they used to.

[Seer motions 3,4 and 5 at end of this paper.]

Summary

So come and join us as Concerned Ramblers. Like Mr Franklin we do not want the Ramblers
to ‘stand still’ and we too intend to ‘remain relevant for the future’ (and the present). We too
want the Ramblers to take on new challenges. But we cannot do that by shunting to other ac-
tivities the resources needed to sustain our universally acknowledged expertise on rights of
way and access work. Nor can we properly celebrate our 75 years of achievement with a


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management that is contemptuous of our democracy and unwilling to share problems with the
membership.



Notes

1. For just a few examples: in the Godmanchester case we went all the way to the House of
Lords to prevent landowners using hidden evidence when denying their intention to dedicate
paths; we pursued the Isle of Wight council to secure repair of the spectacular cliff path
(Chimney Steps) and in Stockport we won retention of an historic route (Stringer Street
Steps); we played a significant role in the opening of paths on the in famous Mr Van Hoog-
straten’s land in Sussex and we fought successfully to keep open one of the gateway paths
onto Dartmoor.

2. An Inquiry into the Financial Affairs of the Ramblers by Jonathan Kipling FCA, DChA, 4
Dec 2009; paragraph 4.1.6. This document is apparently being distributed by Central Office.

3.For instance, as recently as November 2009 the membership secretary of one midland
group complained to Mr Franklin about the number of errors in the ‘improved’ monthly
membership reports now being issued by central office. In a three-page list these included
failures to record resignations, direct debits and overdue subscriptions. The report also failed
to use the group’s correct name (it having merged with another group nearly two years previ-
ously). These complaints followed a roadshow meeting (Birmingham 17 Nov 2009) at which
Messrs Whittaker and Franklin claimed that there could not be much wrong with the reports
as the number of complaints had fallen. No doubt they had, but perhaps only because frus-
trated membership secretaries have grown weary of making them.

4. Kipling’s Inquiry (see 2 above) page 4.

5. Board of Trustees minute 115/09.

6. Capitalisation in this quotation is as in the original.

7. This is a 14-page document headed ‘AGMs Briefing Sheet─for use by trustees and manag-
ers at Area AGMs’, updated 23 Nov. 2009. A copy was supplied to the Concerned Ramblers’
steering group by a member of the RA staff.


The motions which Concerned Ramblers’ steering group to have moved at next General
Council are:

1. This General Council expresses deep dismay over the financial management and general
running of the ramblers in the last two years. Without prejudice to the generality of its con-
cerns, General Council specifically deplores:
The failure of the Board of Trustees and Senior Management Team to be aware in early 2009
of a developing financial crisis so severe that by May 2009 they would be announcing a major
programme of redundancies and the closure of offices in Scotland and Wales, and the failure
to ensure the General Council was properly notified of the financial situation;
The disastrous introduction of a new membership system, the very long time it has taken to
fix problems and the huge cost to the organisation in terms of both cash and the goodwill of
members and volunteers;
The poor communication between the Board of Trustees and Central Office on the one hand,
and members in Areas, Groups, and General Council on the other, including slow, reluctant,
incoherent, and limited explanations of the many problems that have faced the Ramblers;
The failure of the Board of Trustees to honour Article 17.3 of the Articles of Association by
including in Fresh Air Firm Ground only vague aspirations and relegating almost all specific
objectives to a business plan on which there was no consultation.



                                                                                              7
2. This General Council calls upon the Board of Trustees to seek an independent review of the
Ramblers’ Association’s interpretation of the Charity Commission ‘s requirements with spe-
cial reference to the powers of General Council, the Board of Trustees, the Chief Executive
Officer and the accountability to the General Council of the Board of Trustees; and further-
more to review the advantages and disadvantages of the Ramblers’ Association continuing to
have charitable status, and to report the findings of the review to General Council 2011.

3. This General Council believes that protection and improvement of the rights of way net-
work and of access to open country, coast and to Scotland are the most important activities of
the Ramblers’ Association, and calls upon the Board of Trustees within the next year to trans-
fer to rights of Way work and access work an adequate amount of the RA’s income, expendi-
ture and other relevant resources to facilitate the achievement of a Rights of Way network
throughout the UK where ALL rights of way are easy to use, and access land (as above) is
achieved and enlarged.

4. This General Council believes that in its rights of way and access work the RA must be
willing to take legal action in all appropriate cases where other methods of achieving a suc-
cessful outcome have failed, and this General Council believes that inability or unwillingness
to undertake legal action in appropriate cases renders the RA ineffectual and unable to protect
and improve the rights of way network. This General Council therefore calls upon the Board
of Trustees to make resources available by the transference of substantial funds from other
areas of the RA’s activities, and the allocation of other resources.

5. This General Council believes that to enable the RA to achieve a rights of way network
throughout the UK where all rights of way are easy to use, it will be valuable to carry out an
across-the-board review of rights of way policy and other relevant factors that affect success-
ful outcomes in rights of way work. It therefore calls upon the Board of Trustees to carry out
such a review during the next year. This review will be expected to include inter alia the ef-
fectiveness of Section 130A, alleygating and other problems affecting urban paths, cropping
and ploughing obstructions, rights of way improvement plans, un maintained county roads,
diversions policy and lost ways; and it will include a survey of all local authority rights of
way budgets over recent years (including the present year) and the percentage of each local
authority’s paths that are easy to use.

ends




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