"The possession of arbitrary power has always, the world over, tended irresistibly to destroy humane sensibility, magnanimity, and truth". Frederick Law Olmsted
For quite a while now I have mistrusted the way the Landscape Institute has been run, I make no secret of it. I believe that it has been mostly used as a vehicle for a few to further their careers.
In that respect, I disagree with Mr McCapra’s assertion that “The interests of members are articulated primarily through the elected Council of the Institute and our main responsibility is thus to act as directed by our trustees”. I believe that the structure of the LI, as it stands, does very little to allow the Council to have the right information, at the right time and use it profitably for the benefit of the membership.
Firstly, the compliance record in retuning the Annual Return and Accounts is discreet. These have been submitted late or very much on the edge of the legal limit. There is very little strategic advantage one can gain from a report that is ten months into the financial year. If something is wrong, there is no margin to correct it on time, specially if there are issues with financial control and procedures in place. As the Audit for the year 2007-08 shows, the LI, did have this kind of issues. It also means that Members are kept in the dark for ten months.
With regards to the strategy implemented by the LI for growth I quote from the 2006-07 accounts:
“Significant growth of advertising sales and other commercial income occurred during the year, underlining the need for careful business management and diversification of income as the benefits of the Institute’s activity to members and the public interest move on from being wholly financed by member subscriptions. We have taken steps to considerably clarify and strengthen the relationship between the Institute and Landscape Services Ltd, and have appointed two new directors to the Board”
Now please read this for the 2007-08
“practice subscriptions by more than inflation to enable investment and development of the organisation and to provide more resources within the Secretariat. Members’ subscriptions and practice subscriptions are present just over half of the income, (…). Advertising sales and other commercial income began to slow down during the year. reflecting the economic climate and underlining he need for careful business management and diversification of income. Advertising sales account for nearly 30% of the Institute’s income) this represents a significant business challenge to be addressed in 2008-9”
We can see that one year we need to diversify and that the next we need to be careful with Advertising!.
However, in the 2007-08 Accounts, we can see that income remains strong and growth is in the region of 15,000 for Advertising, possibly short of expectations if we consider previous years growth (70,000 for 2006-07) but not so short if we consider that income from Conferences and Sponsorship Jumps in 2007-08 to 114,036, that means nearly 70,000 more than 2006-07!!!!
Overall, Income from charitable activities for 2007-08 was up by 135,000 over the previous year, and this includes Advertising. Why are we being given a partial a heavily biased version of the accounts?
The source of our financial problems is not the Advertising downturn or the Gift Aid issue, which the Council has presumably know about since 2006 and has had plenty of time to adapt and take necessary action. There has no been change in criteria by HMRC, they have simply stopped the LI members claiming twice the same money! If appropriate remedial action has not been taken, the those responsible must be held liable. Lame excuses will not wash.
In my opinion, the source of problems is a massive increase in expenditure that the LI has incurred in the last two financial years, with staff increasing from 15 to 23 on average, and with an increase in Wages in the region of 200,000 for that period. I do not believe that the LI expected to increase sales by nearly 50%. There is also an incredible increase in an item named Other Staff Costs that jumps from 59,176 to 119,617 in one financial year, without explanation. This amount nearly equals the shortfall in Advertising revenue!
With regards to the alleged misaccounting, I have seen no reference in the Financial Statements to this issue. It would appear that it is a 2008-2009 issue, and therefore it will be reflected in the Financial Statements for this period, possibly towards the end of 2010, as usual. It may have an impact on our situation, no doubt, but it needs to be separated and dealt with appropriately, not bundled in a package with other periferal stuff.
The one worrying thing is the huge increase in expenditure and resources seen in 2007-08. Enough to see the line for RESOURCES EXPENDED - 2007: 1,753,334 / 2008: 2,100,130) to understand that even if Advertising revenue had risen by twice the amount expected, it would have made very little difference to our financial situation.
If we consider line 5. Membership and Examinations Expenditure – 2007: 734,091 / 2008: 870,684, we can see that the increase from 2007 and 2008 is in the region of 135,000, in spite of the fact that there are savings in every aspect of the Expenditure Described!
This is this possible, because the Allocation of salary costs and Allocation of support costs rose by some 135,000 In one year! Wages themselves jumped from 533,537 to 629,992 (reasonable for the 4 extra employees that the LI is supposed to have employed on average over 19 staff in 2007). However Please note that the Item 7. Staff Numbers and Costs – Other Staff Costs DOUBLES from 59,176 to 119,617 in 2008!!!! What are this other staff costs and how where they distributed is one question I have.
Moreover, if we look at 6. Communications and Events (also Expenditure) - 2007: 970,284 / 2008: 1,173,754. There is 200,000 increase in the cost of communications and events between financial years. The cost of publishing the journal stays at 412,756 (not the 425,000 stated in the Financial Summary), a saving of 2,000 over 2007. Nearly 70,000 increase can be attributed to “Other Events”, that jump to 114,869 from 56,757. Again, Allocation of salary costs and Allocation of support costs rose by some 145,000!!!
What are this other salary costs? And what events were those at the tune of nearly 60,000? They cover the shortfall in advertising or a large chunk of money from the Gift AID.
Overall, poor business practice is exemplified by the huge increase in cost of sales, which point in the direction of poor business decisions, such as to invest huge amounts of money in Conference and Sponsorship, when they actually bring in as much as they cost, if I am reading the figures correctly. This entails a huge loss of profitability and a drain in resources that are tied up in whatever these events required, instead of serving a more profitable purpose or staying in the bank!
As for single items of expenditure, I find 24,000 in fixtures and furniture in one year slightly extravagant, but I may be entirely wrong. I have previously pointed out in other posts several other dubious items of expenditure in the accounts.
One more point to take into consideration is the evolution of the Cash at Bank and in Hand, that goes from 319,873 in 2006, to 443,420 in 2007 to 275, 592 in 2008. The biggest depletion of Cash has not taken place in 2008, as the Financial Statement has us to believe: the accounts were not ready at that stage and that information could not be possibly ready. I see no mention of any financial analysis in the Accounts. I simply do not believe the way this information is presented.
Cash has been depleted, but how, by whom and on what?
In the light of this information, I personally feel misled by the LI as to the real nature of this crisis. I have been accused of being libellous, of making venomous attacks and of bullying members of staff by telling them that they are “having it large with my money”. Well, it appears that that some members of staff have had it “large” with the LI’s money, otherwise I see no explanation for the costs aforementioned. Moreover, the liabilities our Institute has right now exceed 500k! How is this possible after years of steady income, 8 million if I am not wrong? Where is all this money gone?
As for libellous views, there is nothing wrong with asking the police to have a closer look to whatever is happening with our accounts.
The Financial Summary 2009 is misrepresentation of the facts, as I understand them. I may be wrong, and I may be wrong to suggest that some LI decisions smack of asset stripping. But I much rather have a detailed and profound review of the event leading to the situation we are in now than be kept in the dark until something much worse emerges.
I have also called for the Council Members to resign in mass and subsidise the LI with their own assets. The rules are clear on this: they are liable. This may be a bit too much for them to bear but if I may quote the Financial Statement:
“As these accounts indicate, the institute ended the 2007-08 financial year with a significant trading deficit. This is due to a combination of factors, of which the (…) most significant are:(…) issues for the Institute’s internal financial control and monitoring systems”
I have discounted the other two, as I have already commented on them. I quote from the Signed Accounts now
“The Council are responsible for preparing the Annual Report and the financial statements in accordance with applicable law and UK Generally Accepted Accounting Practice. Company (…) law (…) requires the Council to prepare financial statements for each financial year which give true and fair view of the state of affairs of the Charity and of the surplus or deficit of the Charity for that period. In preparing those financial statements the Council have:
- Selected suitable accounting policies and applied them consistently (sic)
- Made judgements and estimates that are reasonable and prudent (sic)
- state whether applicable accounting standards have been followed, subject to any material departures disclosed and the financial statements, and
- prepared the financial statements on a going concern basis (unless it is inappropriate to presume that the Charity will continue in operation) (sic)
The Council have overall responsibility for ensuring that the Charity has an appropriate system of control, financial and otherwise. (…) They are also responsible for safeguarding the assets of the Charity and hence for taking reasonable steps for the detection and prevention of fraud and other irregularities. (sic)”
Considering all of the above, I am afraid that it is unconceivable that the same people stay in the same places making the same decisions. Now that LI members of staff are being made redundant, the bad guy is me, who berates them in a spat of despondency and impotence. We have the Institute we deserve and we have the Council Members and Trustees we deserve.
If expressing these views about something I care passionately about, then, what is left for me as a Member. To leave the Institute? Is that what we are expected to do, if we do not comply?. I may be wrong, but I would like the opportunity to prove that I may be right. We need to see some light at the end of this tunnel.
We need a clearing in the distance.