Leader: A less than normal year in the life of the Treasurer …

Whatever the new normal is, it doesn’t seem to have arrived just yet!

Having taken over the Treasurer’s role at the end of 2021, I recall the parting words from my predecessor Janet Williams (for whom we should be very grateful for her long stint in the role): “Good luck, but you shouldn’t need it; the Treasurer’s year follows a pretty well-trodden calendar and not much exciting happens really”; or words to that effect. So, I did my own handover to John Medhurst, our new Chair of Events and Conferences, and filled my upcoming diary with the various committee meetings, Board meetings and General Council sessions. 

I was, of course, aware of a number of things that were due to deliver or change during the Financial Year and these mostly passed/concluded without incident. We had appointed our new auditors, Sayer Vincent, and were well prepared for the annual process. They made some recommendations to the Board to tighten up our procedures and maximise our charitable status, which have all been actioned. Our Annual Report was published, and the AGM held. 

Next up was the conclusion of our new publishing contract with Taylor & Francis (T&F). Gavin and the Publications team had this all in hand, so there was little for me to do. However, as it’s the largest source of income for the Society, the implications for the contract on our ability to deliver our strategic priorities should not be understated. The future for the academic publishing sector, including open access, has been discussed here over a long time. The bottom line for the new contract is that we have a lower guaranteed revenue and the risks within the normally upside year end reconciliation bonus are shared between ourselves and T&F, with more of the risk on us. We are due to have a checkpoint meeting with T&F in November. 

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Bob Scott, Board Member and Honorary Treasurer

And so we come to the more interesting bits. Our investment activities had been making a steady recovery from the COVID plunge in early 2020. We have a substantial investment portfolio managed by Investec and you will recall Gavin and I wrote a short piece for Inside OR in March regarding our Environmental, Social and Governance Investment approach. Our risk appetite is medium and is a long-term strategic portfolio of good company equities and other normally stable investment vehicles. The combined effects of a number of global changes (the war in Ukraine, energy price rises, China’s zero COVID-19 policy) and the general cost-of-living crisis in the UK, resulted in knocking almost £250k off our portfolio value, overnight. Investec wrote to us, their standard customer compliance letter, alerting to a reduction of value of plus ten percent in 24 hours. I don’t want to receive too many of those, thank you. 

The cost-of-living crisis was not only impacting our investment activities, but the Board also considered its impact on our members and customers (e.g. training and conferences). We had already instigated a review of all of the Society’s contracts for supply of products and services, which had delivered some savings. The Finance committee undertook a sensitivity analysis of all the revenue and cost line items in our budget. We analysed each item’s susceptibility to further increases in inflation and under different scenarios our approach to addressing them. This work has been essential for the Board to understand the range of our likely outturn for 2022 and in preparation for the 2023 budget. This work must continue as business as usual into the New Year, with the new management team. 

You can’t just “cut your way to greatness” and therefore opportunities for growth are a focus. Retention of existing members and recruiting new ones are key to this and we all have a part to play. Extending and expanding some of our existing activities are important too. The Board is also continually looking for diversification of our activities and revenue streams. 

This involves investment of which the apprenticeship programme is a good example. As we develop our capabilities as an end point assessment organisation, a new revenue generating activity is born. If we are to continue to fulfil our charitable aims, we need a long-term sustainable plan, balancing the new with the old and meeting the needs of our members. We welcome ideas from the membership to assist us in this respect.

I started writing this leader article whilst at the OR64 annual conference at Warwick. After all the goings on over the last few years, it was nice to meet people again in person, attend some interesting presentations, plenaries, participate in some workshops and even dance a little! I had intended to complete it on my holiday, the first time we had been away since autumn 2019, like many, to take a break and enjoy the sun. Well, the tropical storm, soon to be hurricane, proved to be creating a less than settled weather forecast – mirrored by the changes with the political and economic turmoil back in the UK. On my return I tested positive for COVID-19, something I had dodged for almost three years at home in the UK. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a period of instability in our society and economy as the one we are stuck in. This “New Normal” might not be all it’s cracked up to be; maybe we need a change!