District Societies – There’s more to life than this

I suspect that the recent problems faced by the South-West London Society of Chartered Accountants are just a reflection of a much wider debate about how the various institutes should serve their members locally.

District societies were set up to provide opportunity for members to interface with their institute locally. There were two fundamental assumptions behind that wish.

First, that members would want that interface and second, that the institute would have something to give back. And in that lies the dichotomy in the current debate at SWLCA.

The main committee has been trying to interface with the members. In the last year, it has organised a trip to an airport, run the proverbial visit to a brewery, put on a quiz night, had an annual dinner and an agm.

And it has spent #20,000 in doing so, both subsidising the events themselves and in mailing 7,000 people about them (and little else). Fortunately, most accountants in South-West London have a life and, as a result, attendance at these events has been somewhat poor. There is ample evidence that the members do not want that sort of interface.

This is quite untrue of the ex-courses committee, where seven courses were offered, featuring some of the best-known lecturers in the country.

In this activity, the institute gave to the members what they wanted and, because it was good value, there was no cost to the English ICA and a lot of people attended.

So which is the right way forward for local societies? In my view, there is no doubt. Few members have time or patience for institute politics and the local professional club. There are better things to do in life.

So the institute should give the members what they want and need, and market-test the demand by charging, but otherwise local societies should be disbanded.

At SWLCA, the old order won. I was on the disbanded committee. But it would be worth losing the chance to do something of value if the act of disbanding the courses committee was part of the dying throes of an obsolete form of local English ICA society.

Richard Murphy is senior partner at Murphy Deeks Nolan.

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