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Thursday update 20 April 2017: A Q&A session

The leadership team at BA Clubs is striving to keep all members fully informed about developments and has been aware of a number of questions that members have raised. To that end the Advisory group recently met Chris Byron (the Chair of the Concorde Club Charity) and Carole Farr (Chief Executive of BA Clubs Ltd) to raise some of these queries, plus others about the running of the Charity and its future. We captured the Q & A session and reproduce it here – we recognise that this is quite a long article, but as you will see the questions covered quite a broad range of topics.

Q: What is the relationship between the Charity and BA Clubs Ltd?

A: BA Clubs Ltd is a company set up by British Airways to manage and administer all British Airways Clubs across the country of which we are one.

Q: Is this the same as when we were a members club?

A: Basically yes, except that Clubs in the regions are merged into BA Clubs and are run more like a department of that company. The Concorde Club Charity and its predecessors, have never in 70 years either traded or held bank accounts in their own name. They have always been financially administered through BA Clubs and its predecessors.

Q: Are Gyms part of BA Clubs Ltd or part of the Charity and what is the future of the gym at Heston?

A: Gyms are entirely the responsibility of BA Clubs and unfortunately the gym at Heston is losing money. It needs substantial investment in new equipment which is not available, hence the decision has been taken by BA Clubs for it to close.

Q: We thought Clubs had substantial reserves and that these could be used to keep the gym open?

A: There are still substantial reserves but these have been declining rapidly because Clubs no longer receive any subsidy at all from BA. In our heyday the grant from BA was in excess of £1m per annum and our membership over double today’s figure.

Q: What steps have been taken to balance the books?

A: When Imperial College bought Heston the grounds, sports and catering staff transferred across to Imperial. Furthermore BA Clubs’ staff have been severely reduced, but this has been a costly exercise through severance payments.

Q: We thought we had an Operating Agreement with Imperial College that gave us the right to stay at Heston until 2021 yet we are having to move sections off site?

A: Yes we have such an Agreement but that agreement inevitably gives Imperial the right to close areas of Heston that are making losses. Hence the closure of the main hall and reduction in bar and catering services.

Q: Do you expect other areas to be closed at Heston?

A: The blunt answer is yes. Imperial have told us they are reviewing how they run Heston and how it fits into their portfolio of sporting facilities in the future. They have promised to let any section finish its season’s activity.

Q: Can you give any more detail on likely timeframes so that sections can plan their future?

A: We think Alison Hartigan has done a great job communicating with individual sections and helping them to either relocate or plan ahead. In fact we have also employed another consultant to help us identify other options.

NB since the meeting we have been able to confirm that junior football will continue at Heston. Cricket will have use of the grounds this summer as will softball. The future of other sections at Heston is still insecure but whilst Imperial College’s review continues we now know that the earliest it can impact is end July.

Q: Why haven’t we had an AGM or even a Members Meeting?

A: We aren’t a members club and the legal status of BA Clubs Ltd and our Charity does not necessitate members being invited to AGM’s. In simple terms members aren’t shareholders.

It’s a fair question however regarding a member meeting. The Trustees however have rightly or wrongly believed that the best time to have such a meeting is when our future is clarified. We have though kept in close touch with section officials to keep them in the picture.

Q: There was a letter in a local paper criticising how the Charities finances were being managed. What is the position?

A: Most of the points made were erroneous and we have sent a response to the letter rebutting the statements. We have nothing to hide and anyone is welcome to question us on how we run the Club. We might not agree but challenge, provided it is constructive, is helpful.

Q: What were the inaccuracies in the letter?

A: Well, for example, because the anonymous person hadn’t checked their facts they quoted company law about failure to keep proper records could lead to imprisonment. Had they expressed concern directly to us they would have learnt that we have two independent trustees, both of whom have considerable experience in governance of charities. John Devine, for example is a practising lawyer who has set up many, many sporting charities, whilst Denis Taylor is a recently retired Chief Executive of a Charity. The Trustees therefore are very well briefed and aware of their financial and legal responsibilities.

Q: Are there any other issues about the finances that you would like to cover?

A: Both the Charity and BA Clubs  finances have been audited. These were carried out by BA auditors and also by specialist charity accountants. In fact the last 3 years of accounts have been prepared with their assistance and then approved by the Trustees.

Q: Can you give examples of how this helped?

A: Well for instance, the fact that we are a charity requires us to submit accounts to both Companies House and also the Charity Commission and they have different reporting requirements. Our advisors helped us adjust to comply with these different needs. Our wish to adhere to the Statement Of Recommended Practice (SORP) for charities prompted the restatement of the accounts.

Q: In what way?

A: The advice we received from our professional advisors is that the reality of the matter is that the Charity has never traded. The Trustees set policy, but that is actually administered by BA Clubs who carry out all financial transactions and hold all the charities money in their bank account. 

Q: Why were the assets not transferred to the Charity?

A: Firstly, because of the historic relationship that has existed between the predecessors of BA Clubs Ltd and the Charity, and secondly because the sale of Cranford has meant that the Charity has not been able to financially benefit from its charitable status, so there seemed no point in changing the historic relationship.

Q: The relationship between BA Clubs and the Charity is difficult to understand as an ordinary member and from what we have been told seems to bring complexity rather than benefit?

A: We think that is right, and a sub-group of Trustees has been set up, including one of the independent trustees to determine whether a better governance structure is possible. 

Q: Do you think BA Clubs Ltd will be prepared to change the structure?

A: Certainly, provided it streamlines work-load and makes marketing of our offer more effective.

Q: When do you think the Trustees will be in a position to inform us about any changes?

A: Clearly as a Charity we will first need to make sure that any changes proposed comply with Charity Law, so we will first work with our legal and professional advisors. Once they are satisfied and the Trustees have approved any changes, then they will need to be checked out with the Charity Commission. Hopefully this won’t take too long and hopefully Imperial College’s review will also finish shortly as we appreciate how exasperating all this change and uncertainty is for everyone.

Q: Finally can you tell us the value of the Charities assets?

A: As we have already said the assets are held by BA Clubs. The Trustees will need to agree both with BA Clubs and the Charity Commission the size of that pot because that money must be used exclusively for the benefit of the members. BA Clubs has agreed to there being total transparency of its own finances so as to assure Trustees that the correct figure is agreed for funds belonging to the Charity.