Friday, May 25, 2012

Getting back to basics

Sometimes when I am working with organisations I decide that there must be a return to basics. People are half-way through something but it is difficult to grasp what. This can be difficult if I am trying to mentor someone - to boost their confidence and show them new skills. I agonise for a long time over how I should address this but in the end these things have to be done. And in the main people appreciate my honesty and can see what I am getting at.

So what do I mean by this? I have been helping with a business plan for a charity. The first draft was put together by two people who had never done a business plan for a charity before although they had both extensive experience of business planning.

In the form it was in the first draft didn't really capture what the organisation was doing and why. It was based to some extent on a previous plan when the focus was on building a new organisation, this new plan was about keeping the organisation going. I started by talking through what needed to be in this new business plan and why. Their first attempt at this reworked format was OK but it had a lot of lists and description about what was currently happening but not why this was happening or what needed to happen in the future. 

There was quite a tight deadline for the work so I thought it would be better to re-write rather than just to offer pointers for how to improve it. Those writing the business plan were delighted as they could see that it now read better and that I hadn't in any sense removed their work just repackaged it (and put some in as appendices). 

I am still helping with the action plan to make it easy to understand but once this is done I suspect that in the years to come they will be able to do this themselves. Whilst most of us want to enable and encourage people to do things for themselves sometimes the best learning comes from going back to basics rather than rejigging what you have. Both the people had ideas in their heads about what a business plan should look like from their previous work, but neither models worked for this organisation. I think that I had actually do a lot of it myself and by doing it show them how it was done. This is the way that many people used to be trained and was affectionately known as 'sitting next to Nellie'. 

In another situation I am working with someone who lives in a rural location, owns a house and surrounding land and runs a charity on the land. The charity rents some of the land and has animals on the owner's land. After the first meeting I thought that I was clear about what the issues were but on returning I realised that the two parts of the person's life - her family life and her work life were entangled. So it was no wonder that life got a bit confused and at times complicated. I decided to go back to the beginning - who owns what, who pays for what, who rents what etc. My work is supposed to be tightly time-limited so the drive is always to jump in and get on with things but sometimes we need to ask ourselves, 'Do I really understand this situation enough so that I can be of help?' I am convinced that whether I can help this organisation or not, I will be in a better position having sketched out the basics or who owns what and who pays for what.

Another example is with our chapel and its proposed building works. I have not been involved in the early stages of the small group discussions but was asked to help with fundraising. I began to feel out of my depth. Many of the issues were about planning issues and listed buildings. I know the Conservation Officer at the Borough Council so went to talk to her. It was so useful to be able to understand what needed doing for each piece of the work. I then wrote this out for my own benefit and for others in the congregation so that we could agree what was needed. My understanding of the legal issues may be wrong but at least I have written them down so that people can see what I think. Often we ignore the significance of writing things down not as an end in itself but to focus the mind on what each of us is thinking.

And the last example was yesterday. An organisation that I volunteer with is having an issue with the local planning office. The head of planning came out to speak with us. All my questions were about getting to the basics. He said that they had concerns - I asked what those concerns were. He said that we were in breach of our planning consent - I had read this consent several times and still not understood it - so asked what our planning consent actually said (he did not know but is going to find out); and he said that we needed to take a certain course of action - I asked him to detail how we would do that. There was one person getting quite upset at how we had been treated (which was not great) and the head of planning needed to know that - but to move forward we needed to know the basics - what do we have to do, why do we have to do this, what will they do and what will the implications be.

It is quite interesting for any organisation to go back to basics and ask things like - why do we exist, what values do we have, how do we realise our values and how do we plan for our future? Organisational drift is a well-understood concept in the voluntary sector and happens usually for the best of reasons - people are busy doing. But sometimes we do need to stop doing and start thinking about what we do and why.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


A bit of a conversation on someone else's blog brought the idea of scrutiny to the fore. Everything that we do in terms of governance needs some degree of scrutiny but what exactly does this mean. It means that no one person should be making significant decisions e.g. taking on staff, signing a contract or spending money, without others having a look at the decision and satisfying themselves that the decision is sound. Some charities have very clear guidelines about what trustees, staff and volunteers can and cannot do without authorisation from a higher power: many don't.

But what if the board has made a decision, what scrutiny does this need? In the first instance the board themselves need to be confident that they have scrutinised the decision that they have made. If you are going to commit resources (time and money) to something you need to be confident that someone somewhere has done the thinking. Of course this can be difficult with a new project.

I volunteered to write a business plan for a charity shop within a local Community Centre. The person with the responsibility for doing this was overwhelmed with other work. I find business plans fairly easy so said that I would have a go. For a new venture it is quite difficult, despite there being quite a bit of information about how to start a charity shop. After mulling it over for several weeks I decided that a three phase business plan would work best.

The first phase was about whether it appeared feasible. So that we didn't have to do loads of work without a sense of whether we had the basics in place, I worked on identifying what those things were. So was there enough space; did we have enough volunteers; did we have volunteers with the right experience; how would the money be handled; how would we get the goods to sell; and what would the set up costs be. I then raised some issues under each item to engage the board (I am not on the board) in debate. With this the trustees could see that it was on the surface feasible and would add some value to the Centre as well as raising money. The next phase is to look in detail at what needs doing, who will do those things, who will manage the process and how we will plan the implementation. I have stalled at the moment because I have been away and am busy for the next couple of weeks. But when phase two is finally complete we hope to have a good picture of what it is that we will have to do to set the shop up and what resources we will need. The trustees may still decide that it is too difficult or just too costly - but that is their prerogative. If they agree that it is a goer then the implementation plan is the third stage. 

This sort of process is what I would call adequate scrutiny from the Board of Trustees. Without these stages they would be agreeing to commit the charity's resources to something which was merely an idea in the minds of a few of us. And those people are the ones wedded to the idea so would be happy not to look for evidence that it might not work - but we have to and the Board of Trustees has to. Within stage two there will be an options appraisal - different opening hours; different staffing structures; and the types of goods on sale.  There will also be a risk analysis - what if we can't get the volunteers; what if no-one will or can do the management of the project; what if we can't get things to sell; what if we get too much stuff to sell etc.

For Boards of Trustees planning to invest money in something, each trustee needs to be convinced that the investment will bring some benefit and preferably a benefit at least as big as doing something else with the investment. This needs evidence or at least a well-argued case. Nothing beats a written project plan - there's then no arguing about who said what or what each person heard about particular issues. If we were investing our own money in something we would need quite a bit of convincing that whatever we invested our money in would bring us the results expected and hoped for. When we are dealing with charity resources we need to be as vigilant in spending money as we would for ourselves and then some.

Monday, April 2, 2012

How we make decisions

I have just had an email exchange with someone claiming that by not formally voting in a chair and a secretary at a new group meeting (although as there was only one candidate for each role so we nodded it through) was unconstitutional. I pointed out that as we didn't have a constitution (we're an ad hoc working group made up of people from two organisations) that whatever we did could not be termed unconstitutional.

We all know people who are wedded to their rule books, who want to see the i's dotted and the t's crossed. and we should be grateful for them. They highlight an important aspect of working within organisations. What people like my colleague do is remind us that we need to at least have some semblance of structure when we are working together within any organisation. In this instance I suggested that she write a terms of reference which outlined how we made decisions. To date she has not picked up on this.

We cannot assume that all decisions are going to be made the same way in every organisation that we are a member of. Voting in an open meeting may not be appropriate nor may the assumption  that the majority will carry it. Sometimes voting can be divisive. Sometimes people do not want to be seen to cast their vote. Sometimes things are so important that a simple majority just will not do. Most of us only think about how we make decisions when we are faced with one that is contentious.

We had this situation locally a few years back when another religious group wanted to hire our building. Their views in many ways were contrary to ours and some felt that it was inappropriate. Others felt that as long as they were not preaching hate or violence that we should reach out and offer our building. It got very testy and in the end we had a secret ballot but not until we had debated the issue very fully. In the end we did rent our building, they came a couple of times and then their own internal strifes overtook them and they disappeared. What it left us with was a feeling that we needed to know how decisions were made - not just the end bit - but the process leading up to that.

We have carried this forward with our discussions about our building. We could have taken a straight vote a year or two back. Instead we decided that we needed to debate the issue until the majority of people could see the vision of the reconfiguration of the space and the outcome that it would make the building more accessible.

Going back to my procedure-loving colleague, I think that it is worth trying to marry some people's desire for structure and accountability with others' priorities of getting the job done. As with all organisational issues it is a matter of balance and accommodating diverse approaches to make a meaningful and respectful whole.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Charities Act 2011

The Charities Act 2011 has now been enacted.  It doesn't change anything - it 

'...repeals and replaces the Recreational Charities Act 1958, the Charities Act 1993 and many of the provisions of the Charities Act 2006.' 

There is no change in how charities will be governed and managed but all references to charity law should now be to this act. The Charity Commission says this

'It simply consolidates existing legislation and so does not affect the legal basis of the Commission's guidance in any way.

This move will certainly make it a bit easier to understand charity law. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Collective responsibility

I was a social worker, social care manager and social care planner for some 13 years and then worked for a district council. I did a lot of partnership working and was used to people having a go at me because of some decision or other. I understood the frustration that many people felt when they thought that they should have got more.  I also understood how social services workers and managers had to make choices about the use of resources. With the best will in the world we could not provide everything that everyone wanted. Most times it was not my decision but whatever I thought I felt the need to represent the department. 

This was not about giving the party line but about discussing with people the difficult decisions that social services faced every day. I saw a marked change in my time at all levels from local to national working, where the honesty of debate enhanced working relationships between all sectors. It will never be perfect but it is so much better than regarding each other with suspicion and distrust. There is then the step further after discussion which is seeing if things can indeed be improved.  Where I saw that there was a real problem which could be solved I would take that back to the department to see if anything could be changed.

As trustees of charities we represent our organisations to the outside world. We have a greater responsibility than an individual worker or manager for the workings of the organisation because we are the ones who set the framework for what is done. We are the leaders not the followers. If we are unhappy with the organisation then we have to work with fellow trustees (and staff if there are any) to change the organisation. Difficulties arise when we wear several hats - in Unitarian circles we may be a trustee of a local congregation, a district, a society and/or the (national) General Assembly - and sometimes we want to make comments just as  us as individuals without having to think about wearing any other kind of hat.

This blog represents what I think, it does not represent what my local community thinks. But how can we be sure that people understand which hat (or none) we are wearing? To some extent it has to be the context and to some extent it has to be explicit. The difficulties arise when we are being contentious and/or when we are criticising organisations of which we are trustees. In the former instance we need to ensure that we do not cast a bad light upon any organisation we are a trustee of by being publicly contentious. We need to be sure that we make it clear who we are speaking on behalf of, usually ourselves. In some circumstances it would do well to pass any public statements we are going to make to fellow trustees for information and comment even if we ourselves are clear that we are speaking personally.

If we are going to be overtly critical of organisations of which we are trustees then we need to take extreme care. First we are criticising ourselves - as trustees we take collective responsibility for the whole organisation. Second we may be setting ourselves apart from the organisation - saying that someone else is in control. Third we may be making public those things which are not in the public domain. And fourth if we are not criticising ourselves then it is likely that we are criticising others - people we have to work with, people we are leading and people who we have a role to protect. It is one thing to address organisational difficulties internally and quite another to do it publicly.

There are of course situations when there has been a significant debate and we do not agree with the majority decision - in this instance we may write a minority report or be clear with our fellow trustees that we cannot keep quiet. Perhaps there will be a discussion with other trustees about how this will be handled. At the end of the day all trustees must be focused on what is best for the organisation and outright war usually isn't the best approach.

It can be very easy to think that we are wearing a different hat or just discussing issues from a personal point of view but ... and this is an important but ... we must be considered in what we say, supportive of our colleagues and if we think there is an issue then raise it internally first, not to the world at large. As a trustee our collective responsibility is always there, we cannot switch it on and off. And then we must ask how we may solve any problems. If we are focused on the best interests of our organisation then we must take steps to address those problems with our fellow trustees and staff.

Being part of any organisation, in whatever role, can and does limit our freedom to say what we think. However it does this for the greater good - for the health of the organisation - to ensure that everyone else in the organisation can trust us and we can trust everyone else in the organisation - to enable the organisation to speak with one voice. In our relatively small Unitarian community we need to be mindful that we make it  clear in what capacity we are speaking.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Effective Governance

It is sometimes difficult to understand how we are supposed to relate to our Executive Committee (EC) (of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches ) (GA). 

I have been involved in a commission, panels, have voluntarily co-produced both the Associate Members newsletter and the Annual Report Summary. I have been involved in planning the Annual Meetings and I have led sessions at the annual Meetings. I did give a significant amount each month until I realised that the EC was not supportive of my work on the Funding Development Panel so took my financial support elsewhere. I have also stood for election to the EC and was unsuccessful. To my mind I have shown my commitment.

But when I dare to criticise I get one of two responses either silence or a comment that I am being negative.  At no point have I ever had a rational debate with any member of the EC about my concerns. It's a rum do when our freedom, reason and tolerance are not enshrined in the EC's commitment to rational debate over real concerns.

The Charity Commission identifies six key principles for good governance. The last of these is being open and accountable. It says this

An effective board will provide good governance and leadership by being open and accountable.  The Board will lead the organisation in being open and accountable, both internally and externally. This will include:

  • open communications, informing people about the organisation and its work;
  • appropriate consultation on significant changes to the organisation’s services or policies
  • listening and responding to the views of supporters, funders, beneficiaries, service users and others with an interest in the organisation’s work;
  • handling complaints constructively and effectively; and
  • considering the organisation’s responsibilities to the wider community, for example its environmental impact.
If you don't know how to relate to an organisation, a group of people or an individuial it is even more difficult to understand how their behaviour might be changed.

Measuring results

If you go out to dinner - how do you assess how good your experience is? The quality of the food, the service, the comfort of the surroundings, the noise level ... do you ask how many hours the cook has spent cooking?  How much the basic ingredients cost?  How long they take to do their VAT return? How long people have trained for their jobs? You might ask out of interest but the answers probably wouldn't affect your rating of your dining experience.

Within the charity world we have come a long way in measuring outcomes - in non-jargon - we measure what has changed.  We used to measure outputs - that is what was produced - in the dining analogy this would be the food, the length of time to order, the cost, the space between tables .... anything about the experience that could be measured in terms of the end result but not the impact on the diner.

In Unitarian circles we struggle with any kind of measurement, we are a bit unsure how this fits with our ethos.  However what we often get told is the inputs.  It cost this much, these many people were involved, they gave up this much time and they travelled these many miles. I am not sure what we are meant to make of this. At best people tell us that they are committed to the task but in some instances one is left wondering, 'How did it take so long?' At best it is open governance and at worst it is raising the flag of the martyr - look at what I have sacrificed for you.

Another response that I have heard a couple of times is, 'We're doing our best'. This is the most scary because if people are doing their best there is only one way to go and that's down.  I would much rather people spent less time being more efficient.  I would also much rather hear what has changed.

In psychological terms we need to move our discussion of achievements into the adult sphere, leave the emotional baggage behind and deal with the business. This is what has changed because of what we have done.  Hurrah! we would all say.

Membership Charities

The General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches is a membership charity - as I wrote in my previous post this is much like a commercial company which has directors (trustees) and shareholders (members). We are not alone in being a membership charity which does not detail the rights and responsibilities of its members. It is unfortunate that a group reporting to the Executive Committee late last year recommended that the GA's governing document (constitution) did not need amending. Not only is the object confusing but also, whilst it says how members come into being, it does not say what they can and cannot do. 

The Charity Commission wrote about Membership Charities back in 2004 and a summary of the report can be found here.  The recommendations for trustees of charities and for members are below

Recommendations for charity trustees

Trustees should:
  • Pay careful attention to the governance arrangements that relate to the charity’s members, in particular:
  • That the rights of each different type of member and their role within the charity are clearly set out;
  • That the role of corporate members is fully understood;
  • That effective means of communication with all members are in place;
  • That the membership list is kept up-to-date;
  • That the governance arrangements are regularly reviewed, including the number of members they have and the level at which a quorum is set;
  • Consider whether it is appropriate to include a clause in their governing document setting out the respective roles and responsibilities of members and consider whether any additional procedural documents would be beneficial;
  • Consider whether their membership is truly representative of the group it is designed to serve and, if not, consider ways of reaching those that are excluded;
  • Be aware of the potential benefits of mediation and, where appropriate, consider whether it might be a useful tool for resolving a disagreement within the charity.

Recommendations for charity members

Charity members should: 

  • Ensure that the charity clearly explains what the membership role entails, including the rights and responsibilities which accompany the role;
  • Exercise their right to vote in the interests of the charity for which they are a member;
  • Abide by decisions that are taken fairly and within the rules of the charity.

At the current moment we seem to have a mismatch of expectations about the roles and responsibilities of members and trustees alike: this needs sorting out .

Money and members

The proposed 2020 Programme raises a number of issues about governance, perhaps one of the most important is about who has control over the General Assembly (GA)'s money.

Trustees of a charity have a duty to apply the charity's income to the achievement of its objects unless it has a specific policy with regard to (a) its reserves; (b) a large project which it is saving money for; or (c) there is planned expenditure in the following financial year. If these do not exist the Charity Commission expects a charity to spend all its unrestricted funding every year. 

It is for a charity to determine how it plans to spend its income and how it intends to raise income and/or reduce expenditure. So what do we mean by 'a charity'?  In terms of who is entitled to make decisions without these being delegated then we have the board of trustees and the charity's members. This model of governance is similar to commercial companies where there are directors (trustees) and share-holders (members). The governing document should clearly describe the rights and responsibilities of each group. The GA constitution does not ... more for a later post.

It is for trustees and members to determine what the decision making process for spending money is.  If this does not exist then the trustees need to produce a decision-making policy and procedure. Trustees cannot complain that this does not exist - it's their job to produce it and then to adhere to it.  Without such policies it has to be a matter of custom and practice. How in the past have we as a body decided on our budgeting? In the past this has been done through a series of processes including the following people/groups - the Executive Committee, Commissions and Panels, the Chief Officer and staff, and ultimately the membership usually via the Annual Meetings.

So what spending should members of a membership charity have influence over? All of it! As an analogy, any member of the British public can express concern about what the Government is spending - it would be a little odd if someone in the government then said but you only have say over what you paid in taxes. Similarly with charities, trustees are working for all their members and it is usual for all members to be able to vote on the future budget and spend of that charity not just on the money that they helped to raise.

So what guides a charity on how to spend its money? Essentially three things

  1. Their object; combined with either
  2. Their business plan; and/or
  3. Emergencies.
If new money is raised then it should be spent on these three items above.  

We cannot have a board of trustees working outside of their own framework of governance and raising money which they say the membership has no influence in spending. If the trustees think that they can do this, and then do do this, then they should not be surprised or upset if the GA's membership is less than grateful.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

What to put in an action plan

I am helping a local organisation with their business planning and we got onto what should go into the action plan. I know this organisation reasonably well and know that they are continually developing new initiatives - they are fairly new and there's quite a bit of energy around both from staff and from volunteers. So my advice was to see what they have been doing in the past six months. The manager produces a weekly report so I suggested that she should cut from all her reports the details of the new activities e.g. meetings with potential new customers or partners, and paste them into another document. Then print out this document and then cut it up so that each activity is on a separate small piece of paper.  Then sit on the floor or in front of a large table and group activities together so that you have categories. She should then have the beginnings of her action plan - she would have the categories and know what she's already done - the actions are then how to develop that work.

The problem with many action plans is that people think it's about doing lots of new stuff.  But whether we are paid staff or volunteers most of our time is spent doing what needs to be done to keep our organisations running smoothly. There is usually a bit of development and this needs to recognised as such. Sometimes a development can be to do the same things but to do them differently. If we are doing nothing new then perhaps its time to sit down with our fellow trustees/committee members and ask ourselves 'What is stopping us for doing new things?'

The business plan (before the action plan) should provide the history and the background and the reasons why we are doing whatever it is we are doing.  If there is not a consistent narrative say from our values and the outcomes that we want to achieve to our actions then that's when we need to change something.  We may have to change our values - but that should be a last resort.  We may have to change our desired outcomes - that would be a shame but may reflect lessons learnt in the real world. We may need to change what we do or how we do it - which is often easier to say than to do.  However we do need to ensure that what we are trying to achieve (our outcomes) and how we achieve these (our values) should logically lead us to what we are actually doing.

The are some (many?) people who hate the idea of doing this sort of thing.  My experience is that it can be very illuminating both in telling us will the good work that we do and also what work we think we are doing but aren't.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Business planning

Some people automatically twitch when they see the term business planning for charities.  I have blogged on this in the past. And yet at the moment I am reminded of how important it is - in some cases it is vital. I am currently helping two organisations with their business plans, have recently commented on another and have had email correspondence with someone who has been made redundant because there was sufficient timely planning by their employer. 

Whilst most of us plan for our own futures we do this more in an unconscious manner than by writing a personal plan. Although I do know at least one person who does write down a personal plan. So how do we go about writing a business plan for a Unitarian congregation/local community?

Here is one suggested contents list for a business plan 
  1. Executive Summary  
  2. Introduction
  3. Background
  4. Vision, mission, aims and values
  5. Organisational description
  6. The building(s) and any land
  7. Risk assessment
  8. Strategic challenges    
  9. Outcomes for the next three to five years with targets and milestones
  10. Action plan
  11. Three year financial projections
  12. Monitoring
This seems like a lot but it is worth considering all sections. Sections 3,4 and 5 will probably change little between business plans so it's worth working on this over time to give a context to your plans. Section 6 may also be unchanging unless the next few years will see major refurbishment and renovation. However you can write some historic stuff.  You don't have to write reams and if you think that reams might be useful put the majority of this in appendices.

Having a risk assessment (Section 7) is a good discipline to get into. Here are two blog posts on risk management - one & two. Risks can be about anything - the building, about our finances or even about our spiritual lives. It's just thinking what could go wrong, how much impact that would have on the community, how likely is that risk going to occur (earthquakes in the UK low, raining off the summer fundraiser probably fairly high!) and thinking of how you might reduce the (a) likelihood of the risk actually occurring and (b) reducing the impact if the risk does occur. These contingency plans must go into Section 10 which is your action plan.

Strategic challenges (Section 8) are about the big issues facing the community. These will emerge through discussion and perhaps a more formal assessment of the organisation.  The challenges may include

  • How to find finance;
  • How to make people more aware of the local Unitarian community;
  • How to develop new approaches to worship or provide spirituality workshops;
  • How to move from one stage of development to the next.
You may wish to think of them under a set of headings for example

  • People: Governance; Ministry; Volunteers; Community Members; Youth; Visitors
  • Other Resources: Finance; the Building; Skills and Expertise of Community Members
  • Developments: Worship; Quality Standards; Knowledge and Skills; Community’s Profile; Communication; and Partnerships.
You will need to discuss how to prioritise these challenges.  It is often fairly obvious but not always. Some people may be more interested in one area of work rather than another. The reasons why the priorities have been chosen need to be clearly described.

Taking all the foregoing into consideration you then need to decide what changes the community wants to see - these are the Outcomes (Section 9). There is a fine balance between being realistic in what can be achieved and not stretching ourselves to achieve more. It will be a learning exercise - monitoring the plan will enable outcomes to be tweaked and reset. The blog post gives more information on how to measure change.

Then you get to do the good part - the Action Planning (Section 10). I have a previous blog post on this. I think that what you have to do with action planning is be realistic about timescales. If the committee only meets quarterly and there are some big decisions to be made, then either you are going to have to have more meetings or recognise that the decision making process will take much longer than if you were meeting every week.

You always have to match you action plan with an income and expenditure profile Section 11) and then you have to build in some monitoring (Section 12) to ensure that you are on track or so that you can change your targets so that you actually achieve what you say you are going to.

Business planning is not difficult but it does require commitment - the first time is always the worst!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Consistent priorities

I have been waiting for inspiration - sometimes it's a long wait.

Having been at a Unitarian district meeting on Wednesday and heard people expressing dismay at the significant focus and financial investment that the Executive Committee is giving to establishing new Unitarian congregations I was nudged into looking again at the strategic priorities presentation given at last year's (2011) annual meetings.  Nowhere in this document, which was the sum total of the General Assembly's strategic priorities, was there any mention of starting new congregations.

Let's look first at this presentation - it starts with

Economics and Ideals

• The Annual Meetings in 2009 proposed developments which proved unaffordable
• The EC referred the difficulty back to the Annual Meetings in 2010 through the
‘Difficult Choices’ presentation
• UK Unitarians and Free Christians were able to prioritise our needs for the future

These proposed developments in 2009 were (from two separate motions) to have two workers focusing on information and social justice. Certainly if they were part-time workers it would have cost about £50,000 or perhaps a little less.

We were also told in the 2011 presentation that the General Assembly would 

... ensure that all Unitarian congregations can have access to professional Ministerial or recognised lay leadership and support.

Now we are being told that we will be having a 2020 Congregational DevelopmentProgramme.  This has come out of the blue and has no business plan to support its prioritisation. This is what this programme will do.

The 2020 Congregational Development Programme was given the go-ahead along with the establishment of a 2020 Board. It includes a range of possible models with lots of room for creativity locally; new planting, restart, side-by-side (parallel congregation in the same location to existing one), satellites and spin-offs and social responsibility starts. 

The report on finances was considered which looked at the likely costs and possible funding opportunities to start and grow the programme. The financial modelling indicated that to establish a total of seventeen new congregations the net cost would be approximately £1.3million. There were several options outlined for raising this considerable sum. The programme would work alongside current initiatives such as the Future Ministry pilot in Scotland. 

It was also recognised that in the eleven year time period it is likely that some current congregations may close and that the support to the General Assembly from the Bowland Trust will then be at an end. This was therefore a "window of opportunity" to promote growth to arrest the serious numerical decline of the Unitarian Movement.

We are also told that from a £45,000 legacy, matched with Bowland Trust monies bringing the amount to £90,000, the Executive Committee agreed to allocate  £50,000 to the Congregational Development Programme (as start-up grant).  It just so happens that this amount matches what it would have cost to implement the motion that was passed in 2009. This latter was actually agreed by us, the former has not been.

What are we to make of this?  First we are told there is no money to support the implementation of motions which were adopted democratically; we are then told that following consultation these are the GA's priorities; we are told that existing congregations will be prioritised so that they will have access to professional Ministerial or recognised lay leadership and support; and then not twelve month's later we have something not identified in the priorities being allocated significant amounts of money - seemingly given much more significance over those priorities which were presented to us in April 2011.

I am not sure what to think but fundamentally this feels all wrong.