Leader: Growth in uncertainty – The OR Society in the time of Brexit


This year the statutory accounts for The OR Society were agreed at the AGM held in July at the University of Portsmouth and have been submitted to Companies House. I appreciate how busy some of our members are, and hence might not yet had the opportunity to read our full annual report and accounts, so this article provides me with the opportunity to highlight the finances and some achievements. The society’s income and expenditure account showed a deficit of £113k during the year on a turnover of just under £1.4m. This deficit was £47k lower than that planned in the budget, principally due to improved performances of publications and conferences and lower-than-planned expenditure on other charitable expenditure.

The publications income was almost £100k above the 2017 level, largely as a result of the beneficial terms of our new publishing contract with Taylor & Francis. It is anticipated that in 2019 publications income will improve further under the new contract but the board is being cautious and our planned budget going forward has been agreed using our guaranteed income from Taylor & Francis. The conference income, which was £35k above budget and £125k above the 2017 level, reflects the extra strategic attention given this year after the disappointing 2017 outcome. The annual conference OR60 in Lancaster exceeded our expectations both financially and in impact terms. This is due to the excellent work of the conference organising committee led by Graham Rand. Also the board provided financial assistance for its journal editors-in-chief and Health Systems’ editorial board to attend our annual conference as a thank you for the time and effort they contribute towards the journal publications.

Most operations to support the charitable aims of the society – such as conferences, special events, regional societies, special interest groups, education, publicity and outreach initiatives, the monthly Inside OR magazine and special charitable projects – result in deficits to the society.

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our goals which remain as reach, visibility, engagement, the people pipeline and the strength of UK OR research. In addition to the work mentioned above, some areas I’d like to highlight are: the Pro Bono OR scheme, which provides a showcase for OR and opportunities for members to engage in exciting and novel work and the chance for our profession to make a positive difference to a wide variety of charities and their beneficiaries; our new website which launched earlier this year; the development of a museum-based travelling exhibition and our Masters Scholarship scheme.

This is the third year for the Scholarship scheme and we have placed student ambassadors in Cardiff, Loughborough, Portsmouth, Southampton and Strathclyde universities. Our current scholarship student in Portsmouth, Josephine Bonanno, gave a very enthusiastic talk at the AGM. Due to the efforts of the working party (Frances O’Brien, Pavel Albores and me, supported by Felicity McLeister) this scheme has been classified as business as usual by the board and will now sit under the Education Committee. The board would like to thank Tony O’Connor (Chief Analyst, Ministry of Defence and Chair of the Government Operational Research Service) and OR Society President John Hopes for their help and support of this new venture and we will watch with interest the future career paths of our ambassadors.

In order to support all the activities of the society we employed 18.6 members of staff during 2018 compared to 15.7 during 2017. This obviously increases our annual running costs for the society which in turn raises the level of reserves we require – this is reviewed annually by the Finance committee and recommendations put to board.


Our reserves policy is based on the annual costs of running the society, one year’s fixed costs of £900k should be a minimum value for the reserves and the maximum value would then be two years’ costs giving a value of £1.8 million. This would cover any growth of the society over the next few years and release funds to further the society’s aims.

At 31 December 2018, the society’s reserves – its investments and cash held within the Reserve Fund – amounted to £1.53m. The reserves are therefore within their prescribed limits. The board will bear this in mind when considering opportunities for spending on worthwhile one-off projects that further the society’s objectives. The society’s investments and their performance are kept under review by the Investment committee in accordance with policies decided by the board.

As stated by our investment manager at Investec, we are currently in the most unusual period in our political history which may or may not be clearer at the end of October. In addition to this the escalation of tension in the Middle East and a risk that the Strait of Hormuz could be closed has resulted in a 28% rise for the oil price this year. Thus although our investment has recovered from a drop at the end of last year and performing above its benchmark we are wary not to take too much risk with our portfolio. The society’s income relies primarily on subscriptions and income from its academic journals – particularly the latter which in 2018 contributed over £606k net of all associated costs. This serves as a reminder of the society’s current financial dependence on the academic publication system and why we are always conscious that we need an appropriate reserves policy. As a society we are very aware of the above and also of the uncertain future of the publications with Plan S on the horizon. Plan S refers to Open Access, there are still some uncertainties about the details of the proposals and how it may affect publishing business models of the future (sounds as confusing as Brexit to me) but we are in good hands with our experienced Chair of Publications, Richard Eglese, and Taylor & Francis who are monitoring the situation to decide whether to plan for changes. We are always exploring ways of reducing our dependency on publications, hence it is excellent to report that our Training income is up 35% on last year and we have an interesting full programme organised for this year organised by Jennie Phelps. The board has also agreed to financially support a Membership Recruitment & Retention Project being implemented by Geraldine Davis, Head of Marketing & Communications.

The future of our society depends on you. It has been estimated that in 2018 we benefited from 5,000 person-days of voluntary contributions, from members and others. If this time is valued at £500 per day, its value is £2.5M. The society is most grateful to all who contributed voluntary effort, without which the society could not accomplish its goals. We are also here to make a difference and support our members so please approach us if you have any ideas you wish to discuss in which we can help either financially or otherwise.