General Council 2012 

Report by Clare Wadd, Inner London Area delegate & Agenda Committee nominee reflecting my individual experience 

(some text liberally borrowed from the office report available on the Ramblers website, released June 2012)

 

The 2012 Ramblers General Council was held in April. More than 200 Ramblers from all over England, Scotland and Wales attended. 

Ramblers General Council is made up of elected representatives from Ramblers Areas and affiliates. It elects members of the Board of Trustees who are ultimately responsible for the charity. The General Council also discusses and votes on motions, receives the Annual Report & accounts. It also hears and discusses the latest on our work and is an opportunity for members to get together socially. 

 

Election results 

The following people were elected. 

Kate Ashbrook President 

Jonathan Kipling Chairman of the Board of Trustees 

Robert Peel Hon. Treasurer 

 

New Trustees in descending order of votes: 

Des Garrahan (3 years)

James Lawson (3 years) (previously had been a trustee with a 1 year place)

Mike Church (3 years)

Maggie Thomas (1 year)

Des Garrahan is from Inner London Area & sits on the Area Committee as Campaigns Officer.  The other 3 new trustees were supported by Concerned Ramblers.

It was disappointing that Board delegates were only given 2 minutes to speak and questions were not allowed from the floor, especially when 45 minutes was timetabled for hustings.  I raised this with the new Chair, as I believe that electing the Trustees (Company Directors) who run the organisation, is the most important thing that General Council does, and found him supportive.  I also found support for this elsewhere and a former member of the Agenda Committee is planning to bring a motion next year.

There were 5 places and 5 candidates, including myself, for the Agenda Committee, meaning no election was necessary.  The other committee members have all been on the Agenda Committee previously, in some cases for many years.  This is my first year on the Agenda Committee.  Two members of the Board are additionally delegated to the committee, this year James Lawson & Max Grant. Brian Reader was elected Chair of the Agenda Committee again for the coming year.

Annual Report and Finances: 

The Annual Report and Accounts were adopted and the auditors, Crowe Clark Whitehill were re-appointed. 

Written questions on the Annual Report and Accounts were submitted and answered in writing prior to General Council.  I submitted 3 questions concerning: the relationship between the fall in spend on Rights of Way & the fall in membership numbers; budgeting for legacies; and redundancy payments in the year.  See end of report for questions & answers.

Motions 

There are two types of motions to General Council, The first are constitutional motions which change either our Memorandum of Association or Standing Orders. 

The second are policy or operational ones that ask the Board of trustees to consider a particular course of action. 

The full text of the successful motions can be found here:

http://www.ramblers.org.uk/Volunteer/General+Council+2012.htm 

Board responses post Council are at the end of this report.

Phil Marson spoke passionately to second the BUPA motion, brought by Red Rope.

Whilst the BUPA motion was strongly debated and convincingly won, the most animated and emotional debate of the weekend was over the Ramblers Worldwide Holidays emergency motion.  The motion was passed overwhelmingly, and I felt that delegates went home with the positive feeling that they had had the opportunity to air their strong views and make their opinions heard. The Board response below is heartening.  

However, the board response below on BUPA is less so, and the lack of formal end date to this contract means we must continue to pressure to have this contract cancelled as soon as is sensibly possible.  The fact that this contract has no formal end date has only become apparent in this report, and was not shared at General Council.

Prior Year Motions

 

Inner London delegates spoke in reference to two prior year motions which the Area had brought: 

 

  • Seeking confirmation that the 2011 amended version of the Memorandum & Articles is available on the Ramblers website, incorporating changes regarding election of Agenda Committee members, as several older versions come up in searches (CW)

 

  • Expressing great disappointment and frustration at the lack of action on the motion regarding consultation on a Greater London Area, or of any interest in the issue of creating an effective wider London Ramblers body, particularly in the context of the upcoming Mayoral Elections, in which Ramblers was playing no part (PM).  This appeared to strike a real chord, particularly with members of the Senior Management team and this was followed up by all 3 IL members in conversations over the weekend; the outcome is a meeting with IL London members, Greater London Forum members and Nicky Philpott, Director of Policy & Campaigns next month.

 

Summary of speeches made at General Council 2012 

Chief Executive, Benedict Southworth 

The newly appointed Chief Executive introduced himself to delegates. He thanked the volunteers and members who had been so warm in their welcome for him. He highlighted his experience as a campaigner, including his Board position with 38 Degrees, and said that he wanted the Ramblers to have a voice which is heard, and for us to shout about our work more.  He informed council that the Board of Trustees had asked him to undertake a review of the organisation in his first 100 days and he was therefore trying to meet as many people as possible. Benedict noted that if Ramblers was at the heart of walking then volunteers were at the heart of Ramblers.  He also wants to introduce low-cost branded gear for volunteers.  The speech was warmly received, and appeared to go down extremely well with delegates in the room.  Quite a number of delegates asked questions.

Coastal Access 

A major theme of the General Council was the celebrations of the opening of the Welsh Coastal Path and the on-going campaign to get the English Coastal Path. Sunday morning saw inspirational speeches from Jane Davidson, Ramblers Cymru president and Huw Irranca-Davies MP, Shadow Defra Minister and President of the Glamorgan Area on the build-up and launch of the all Wales coastal path that was launched on 5th May 2012. The path is 870 miles long and is the longest National Trail in the UK. They both had me wanting to head off to Wales immediately.

Walking for health 

The new partnership with Macmillan was celebrated after the evening dinner. Ramblers will be new national host of the Walking for Health scheme, comprising 650 existing schemes and over 75,000 participants. This work will be funded by Macmillan. Steve Hindle of Macmillan spoke about the importance of exercise for those who are both living with and have survived cancer.  

Retiring Chairman, Rodney Whittaker 

The retiring Chairman, Rodney Whittaker, brought Council to a close by thanking all those who had helped to make the meeting a success.  He hoped that everyone would return home with their batteries re-charged. Special thanks were given to the retiring Trustees: Eleanor Harris (Inner London Area), Malcolm Newman and, in particular, Kate Ashbrook who had been a Trustee for 30 years and had never missed a meeting! 

Rodney said that he had enjoyed his three years as Chairman and that it had been a great pleasure to attend many Area and Group meetings and to meet members on the ground. He would continue as a local footpath secretary in Surrey in good spirits and it gave him great satisfaction to hand over to the new Chairman and CEO. This was the start of a new era after a difficult few years: he felt enormously positive and hoped that everyone at General Council felt the same. 

Chairman, Jonathan Kipling 

The newly elected Chairman, Jonathan Kipling, said it was both an honour and challenge to be the Chairman of an organisation which had achieved so much for the public good. Jonathan said that it was his intention to join the new CEO, Benedict Southworth, in travelling around the country to meet volunteers in regional meetings and to convene an Area Chairs forum or similar. He was in no doubt that the Ramblers needed to become ever more accountable and transparent, that it needed to attract more members and more money, that it needed to value its staff and volunteers and, above all, it needed to find ways of nurturing members into volunteers who delivered much of the Ramblers’ mission. 

 

Internally, the organisation needed to debate without quarrelling, to decide without rancour, to act with unity and to communicate clearly (and then stop debating!). It had to learn from its experiences, to use modern technology to achieve its traditional objectives and to direct its passion outwards to achieve its mission rather dissipate it on internal debate. It also needed both to develop long-term strategies and to seize short-term opportunities. Jonathan concluded by saying that the Ramblers had to become better known for its guardianship of the footpath network, advocacy of the right-to-roam, protection of the countryside and promotion of walking, as well as its reputation for being healthy, friendly and fun to go walking with. 

President, Kate Ashbrook Kate spoke of her excitement of hearing Jane Davidson, Ramblers Cymru President, and Huw Irranca-Davies MP, Shadow Defra Minister and President of Glamorgan Area, speaking about coastal access. It reminded her of the vigour with which the Forbidden Britain Campaign had been fought which was particularly apt at the time of the 80th anniversary of the mass trespass on Kinder. As President, Kate hoped that she would be able to join Ramblers around the country in celebrating successes of all kinds, and to help with campaigns. Her time for this would not be unlimited but she would work with Benedict and the press team. 

Workshops

There were 5 workshops with the opportunity for each delegate to attend two.  I attended Walking For Health and Ramblers Routes.

The Walking for Health workshop was a very useful introduction to Ramblers involvement in this scheme, which they are managing.  There is no expectation on Ramblers volunteers to get involved, but they can do so if they wish.

The Ramblers Routes workshop was extremely well received and there was a real buzz of enthusiasm and excitement in the room.  I’ve been to half a dozen General Councils now, and this was by the far the best workshop I’ve been to.  There has been a soft launch of this initiative to date.  The intention is to create the biggest and best collection of British walking routes on the internet.  The mapping software looks excellent, allowing viewpoints, points of interest etc. to be inserted on maps of different scales.  We are encouraged to get involved with either uploading our own routes or checking other people’s.  The emphasis is on the quality of the routes so the checking procedure is very thorough.  

Twitter

Despite frustrating wifi access (& Android phones couldn’t access it at all) and ropey 3G, Inner London Area were able to tweet regular updates, many of which were re-tweeted, on both the formal and informal business as the weekend progressed.  In fact we dominated the twitter output throughout General Council, creating & publicising the hashtag which was adopted by delegates and staff.  

I had found it interesting & useful to follow the first day, which was tweeted by Walk Magazine last year, when I was not at General Council, and I think twitter can be used for promoting transparency, democracy, and increasing the wider understanding of what we do and what General Council is for.

Clare Wadd, June 2012

Board Reponses on motions to date (from Office General Council Report)

 

[1] Maintaining and Protecting Public Rights of Way 

The Board agreed that the Chief Executive should ensure that support is included in the next business plan for maintaining and protecting public rights of way. 

 

[3] Subscription Rates 

Board Action: 

The Board noted that a review of membership subscription rates was planned in September 

 

[4] Membership Recruitment 

Board Action: 

The Board agreed the Chief Executive should ensure that the new website includes information for the independent walker and to review communications to the whole network in the next business plan. 

 

[5] Ramblers Commercial Partnerships 

Board Action: 

The Board agreed to discuss more fully at the July Board meeting, the outcome of the Ramblers Commercial Partnership motion, but the Board noted the BUPA agreement was a rolling agreement and had no end date but there was a three month notice period. The Board agreed to review the figures of the BUPA partnership in September 2012 when it had been in place a year. The Board noted that before this period, there would be more mailings to our members from BUPA. 

 

[5A] Ramblers Worldwide Holidays 

Board Action: 

The following Minute was agreed by the Board. 

“The Board Chairman noted that the previous evening a thorough and frank discussion had been held concerning the HF contract. He had reported that at GC 2012 the following motion was passed overwhelmingly. 

Whilst the motion itself had not rejected the arrangement with HF it was clear that positioning HF as the Ramblers’ ‘preferred holiday partner’ and the resultant change of the relationship with RH had caused very considerable dismay, disquiet and indeed distress amongst members of General Council. The feelings had been palpable. 

He noted that as a result the Board, at its meeting immediately after GC, had agreed to review its decision making and communication processes in the light of the experience with the HF contract. The previous evening’s discussion was that review. He had noted that the discussion of the action to take on the motion was a separate discussion at agenda item 17(5A) the following day. 

Each Board member who had been involved in the decision making process had given his or her perceptions of the process and the lessons that might be learnt from it. SMT members who had been involved did the same. Trustees who had not been involved in the decision were then asked to consider what they had heard and offer any insights they had formed on what lessons might learnt. Finally, member of the SMT and the Chief Executive who were not involved in the decision did similarly. 

Summing up the discussion the Chairman reported that the Board believed that the decision to accept the HF deal had, in the light of the significant potential benefits it offered, been right but there were lessons to be learnt. These were: 

1. We needed further to develop our systems for the early identification of policies/processes/funding arrangements that; 

a. Might be perceived as breaking new ground in a way that might distress/demotivate volunteers and so militate against mission delivery 

and 

b. Had complex commercial sensitivities that prevented full disclosure of the financial basis of arrangements to members and volunteers as there may be occasions when an adverse effect on volunteer mission-delivery could outweigh the potential advantage of recruiting members, increasing influence or financial rewards. 

2. We needed a clearer understanding of what was and was not confidential, and to whom and to what such confidentiality applied. In some cases this would need to be agreed with the commercial partner who needed to understand the nature of our organisation and that it was volunteer-led in the delivery of its mission. 

3. In difficult negotiations the Board should consider “Board to Board” interventions such that there could be no misunderstanding as to what was at stake and the consequences of action or inaction. Nor could there be any misunderstanding as to with whom the responsibility for the decision lay. 

4. The Board needed a greater understanding of its volunteer (as distinct from its member) base – their motivation and attitudes etc. 

5. The Board needed to be more sensitive when making any arrangements such that the effect on members, volunteers, our ethos and our mission delivery were always considered early in any process. 

6. The Board needed to build partnerships across the whole organisations such that members, volunteers, staff and the wider circle of supporters had a common sense of not only what we were trying to achieve but also how we might achieve it and the constraints and difficulties that we operated under. 

7. The Board reaffirmed its view that all decisions had to be taken in the light of mission fit and volunteer-led mission delivery which included the Ramblers’ ethos. 

8. Board process and minutes must be clear on what was a report of an on-going negotiation and what was a proposed final arrangement, and must highlight the evolution from one to the other. The Board re-iterated its current practice that significant arrangements should, whenever possible, be reported in individual circulated papers with a clear indication of the SMT’s view or recommendation. In future such issues will be considered after mission reports on the BoT agenda. 

The Chairman thanked all those present, the president, trustees, Chief Executive and SMT for the way in which the evening’s discussion had been conducted. He hoped that over time these lessons could be absorbed into the life blood of the organisation such that all Ramblers across the whole organisation might have a common will and a more harmonious future focussed on its mission. 

Turning to the motion the Board, noting its conclusions above and that the contract with HF was in place and that to renegotiate or breach it would be detrimental to our reputation with existing and potential sponsors, agreed the Chief Executive should maintain a friendly and professional relationship with both RWH and HF holidays and also continue with the preparation of a paper on the possible long term relationship between Ramblers, RWH and RHCT. The Chief Executive should manage the impact of different commercial interests on Ramblers groups in future and to look at the on-going process of analysis when the partnership is due for renewal. 

 

[6] Digital format of Definitive Maps 

Board Action: 

The Board agreed the Chief Executive should ensure that a report is prepared for discussion on the digital format of definitive maps and how Ramblers might be involved in it. 

 

[7] Canal & River Trust 

Board Action: 

The Board agreed the Chief Executive should ensure that staff communicate the opportunities to volunteers interested in path maintenance via the website and volunteer e-communications each month. 

 

[7A] The 2026 cut-off date 

Board Action: The Board agreed the Chief Executive continues with campaigning on the rights of way consultation 

 

 

Constitutional Resolutions 

Board Action: 

The Board has instructed the Articles of Association should be updated to take account of these.. 

 

Questions & Answers on the Annual Report - Question submitted by Clare Wadd, Inner London Area

  • Given that legacy income hasn’t fallen below £233,000 in at least 10 years, and that over the last 10 years it’s averaged £382,000, could it not be prudently budgeted at a figure larger than nil? (P22)

 

Answer:  Legacy income varies widely year on year. Since 2008, we have decided not to budget for these on the assumption that plans to spend legacy income will be taken only after probate is granted. In this way, fixed, recurring costs are no longer dependent on legacy income

 

Comment: I was disappointed in this answer, which is a simple restatement of policy, rather than addressing the question.  It doesn’t seem to me that legacy income does vary widely, which was the point of the question.

 

 

  • Redundancy Costs were £23,000 in 2011 (2010: £7,745).  Which roles were made redundant in the year, and what was the rationale?

 

Answer:  The Get Walking Keep Walking roles were made redundant during the year. These costs were offset by BIG Lottery funding

 

Comment: satisfactory answer

 

 

  • Spending on Rights of Way has fallen year on year since 2008, from a peak of £1.32 million to only £738,000 in 2011, a total fall of 44%, and from £10.20 a member to £6.44 a member.  The fall in membership over the same period has been 11%.  

 

Likewise, spending on Rights of Way, Countryside Protection and Freedom to Roam combined has fallen from 125% of Membership Income in 2003 to only 68% now.

 

Has the Board considered whether there is a causal link between the relentless fall in spend on what many members consider to be our core activities, and the ongoing decline in membership? (P28)

 

Answer:  These falls are due to reduced spending on legal costs, staffing and a reduction in access, rights of way and countryside protection work by Areas and Groups. The Board is exploring whether there is a link between our campaigning and membership acquisition and retention levels and how significant this link actually is. 

 

However, a considerable amount of market research has already been undertaken on this topic and it is very clear from the results of this that, although once explained and understood, our campaigning is generally supported, it is not a driving motivator for the majority of our membership; they see it as relevant and important - but it is not the main reason they join or stay. 

 

The top reason for them to join the charity and stay with us, by some distance currently above all other aspects of our work is the led walks programme. 

 

It may well be in the future that new approaches to ‘public facing’ campaigning we are considering may change this balance of motivators, but the led walks programme is the critical top reason for the majority of members and joiners to be with us at this time

 

Note that much of our campaigning work is undertaken by Areas and Groups and the large proportion of spending on promoting walking stems from the costs of the led walks programmes as well as centrally run externally funded projects such as Get Walking Get Walking

 

Comment: I thought this was a good thorough answer, and it’s reassuring to know that the Board is exploring whether there is a link between our campaigning and membership acquisition and retention levels and how significant this link actually is.