Controversy over changes at National Office
Comments by John Catt
There has been considerable controversy on the “Web” upon the announcement that the CTC had reallocated five members of staff. Three roles having been made redundant (part time communication officer, information officer and technical officer) and two roles have been realigned. The technical officer role being that of Chris Juden, a long standing and very well respected member of both the national office team and the Club itself.
The explanation given for this was that, given that CTC has limited budget and needs to refocus its resources to gain the maximum benefit. The demand for immediate general technical and touring information has reduced, due to much information being available via the internet, to a point that a full time member of staff is no longer required. CTC will continue to provide technical information and this will be obtained from a number of sources, and this may include Chris Juden.
Our Councillor, Jaki Lowe, explained at the East Midlands CTC AGM that this action had been taken reluctantly, following a review of the budget. The cost of the insurance package had increased by c.£150K, due to some recent large claims causing premiums to rise. In addition income had been reduced due to lower membership numbers, together with an increase in the proportion of the membership qualifying for concessionary rates, plus some other less significant adverse factors. Some hard choices about priorities had had to be made by the Chief Executive together with Council and the consensus was that this restructuring provided the best way forward.
Many comments from members opposing this development have appeared in web fora and I thought I would comment on some of these.
The CTC is no longer the Cyclists' Touring Club
The CTC has alway been an amalgamation of interests. You can see a time line of its development at http://www.ctc.org.uk/about-ctc/history/ctc-history-timeline .
Originally established to negotiate discounts for members at recommended Hotels and publish a Handbook and Guide listing such establishments for members, it got involved in many different activities over the years. To mention a few:
In my opinion, while the loss of technical officers is very regrettable (and may with hindsight be seen as incorrect), it does not undermine the objectives of the Club or specifically the promotion of cycle touring, which essentially continues to be to promote movement around the country by cycle.
Council doesn't represent the membership and the Chief Executive is not properly controlled.
This is a long standing complaint. This quote comes from the election address of F. Freeman standing for Kent in the December 1891 Gazette.
"I come before you simply as a genuine cycling tourist, of whom I think there are, unfortunately, to few on the Council of this essentially Touring Club."
"Soon after I first joined the Council, it became apparent to me that the Club's affairs were too much, and unwisely, I thought, left in the hands of one person, our worthy Secretary, whom I much esteem - and that members of the Council knew little of the real working of the Club, and consequently had little control; and though the Council might pass important resolutions, it rested with the Secretary whether they were carried out or not.
I have all along been been opposed to this, and consider that the Secretary should be the right hand of the Club, not the head. I am therefore, with the Reformers, or, perhaps, better called Constitutionalists, in striving to maintain the authority of the Club's management and conduct of business in the hands of the Council. This question in my mind, is at the bottom of much of the present trouble, and is unfortunately prolonged by the indifferent interest of the Club and its affairs taken by the larger number of members."
"This is a great crisis in the affairs of the Club; at present it is on the down grade. Shall this continue? Shall the Cyclists' Touring Club, at a time when cycling is making great strides, be allowed to go back and be an everlasting disgrace to its members and cycledom? These are questions you must ask yourselves, and answer not only by your votes, but also by taking a more lively interest in its welfare and conduct of business.
The history of the Club is a noble one, and its deeds of the past will compare favourably with those of any other similar institution. Let us go upwards (in numbers) and onwards (in works). Remember "United we stand, divided we fall" .
This followed a fractious debate about subscription levels and the acceptance of advertising in the Gazette at a general meeting on 13th November 1891. That meeting introduced rule allowing for a poll of members. A couple of quotes form the Minutes featured in the Gazette are revealing.
"Mr. PETHERBRIDGE: I say that up to the present time the Club has not been governed in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the members. Owing to the unwieldy character of the Club it has been comparatively easy for gentlemen - I will not say unknown gentlemen -but gentlemen, out of sympathy with the majority of the members, to be elected ...."
"Mr. J.S. WHATTON:...It is practically useless to pass these resolutions when the Touring Club is governed by a Council of Directors. Those Directors are elected by the Club at general election, and those Directors control (if you will call it control) the Club. They do, and the General Meeting does not, control the Club."
The situation relating to Council was well summed up in the editorial of the Gazette of December 1891:
"The C.T.C. happily or unhappily as the case may be, is bound by no Septennial Act, but once a year, as often as December comes around, it gives to every member the opportunity of determining who shall be the man or the men to represent him upon the Council. It is true that in some districts the privilege of voting is not exercised, but this is due less to the fault of the present system than to the fact that no counter nomination is sent in, or to the confidence the members repose in the delegates already chosen."
It would appear that the CTC has alway had members who have felt that member of Council did not "represent" them. A perusal of the April/May 1983 edition of Cycle Touring (a successor of the Gazette where I found the reference to the "development of technical services") revealed the following in the annual report: "The early part of 1982 saw the formation of a Reform Group, questioning certain aspects of the government of the Club. The Council felt it necessary to issue a response to the Group's comments, but perhaps this resulted in the Annual General Meeting held in Norwich being well attended with a large number of items on the Agenda."
I think the problem stems from the Club being such a "broad church" with members joining for many different reasons. In particular those who join for member benefits may want the Club to concentrate on "value for money" in terms of their subscription.
However Councillors have always been unpaid and taking on this role is a commitment of many hours to travelling and attending meetings. The Councillors' Guidelines, which can be seen at http://goo.gl/bNa8BU, will give you an idea of the role. I would suggest that those who stand for Council are unlikely to be overly concerned with member benefits. It would not make economic sense for them to devote so many hours in order to save a few pounds. They are almost invariably motivated by the idea that the world would be a better place if more people cycled. Member benefits in their eyes are a means to an end, not a end in itself. I don't doubt that all are doing their best to promote the Club. If members are unhappy with their decisions then they need to stand or find candidates for Council to replace them.
CTC is putting all its resources into campaigning to promote cycling and not into member benefits.
The CTC has always put much of its resources into campaigning, since without rights to use routes in safety, cycle touring would be impossible. Member benefits have usually been based on being able to obtain lower prices (be it on hotel accommodation or third party insurance) through obtaining discounts in return for increased sales.
Indeed, looking back to 1898, CTC became embroiled in an early "feminist" court case to defend a member denied what she thought to be adequate service at a hotel carrying the club's badge. Lady Harberton cycled on the morning of 27 October 1898 to have lunch at the Hautboy Hotel in Ockham, Surrey. She wore "rational" dress, a jacket and a pair of long and baggy trousers which came together just above the ankle. She walked into the coffee room and asked to be served. The landlady showed her instead into the bar parlour. CTC went into action, mounting a prosecution for "refusing food to a traveller". The landlady was acquitted and CTC lost the unusually large amount of money it had allotted to the case, which had been considered at the root of cyclists' rights and the values of the Club.
Members no longer control the Club because it is a Charity.
I've not been able to ascertain in what way some members think they have lost control of the Club. The Club (as was pointed out by a member above in 1891) is controlled by Council. Members elect Councillors in just the same way as they did before full charitable status was achieved. The Objects of the Charity allow it to do everything that it did before and no one has given me an example of where it has been prevented from doing anything that it could do before. The current controversy is caused (as were most in the past) by the need to make the best use of limited resources, and I don't think the decision would have been any different in the same circumstances, if the Club had not been a charity.
"The Bicycle Suit", caricature from the Punch magazine (1895).
Gertrude. "My dear Jessie, what on earth is that Bicycle Suit for?"
Jessie. "Why, to wear, of course."
Gertrude. "But you haven't got a Bicycle!"
Jessie. "No: but I've got a Sewing Machine!"
At the time, this type of attire was a new-fangled innovation which it was only considered acceptable for women to wear while bicycle riding (and many old-fashioned people would have considered the style too unacceptably masculinized for even that purpose). The idea that women could wear such clothes in public for any other reason than riding a bicycle seemed ridiculous...