We spent a good deal of the Easter break curled up with the 2016 financial report of the APS, trying to find out where all the money went in 2015-2016.
It’s a fascinating document that underlines the need for better management that our leaders seem to have overlooked as they engage in internal politics and the exercise of power rather than attending to the society’s business.
The signs ought to have been obvious. Net income from membership subscriptions was $8,628,516 last year and the wages and salaries bill (including superannuation payments) for the same period rose to a breath-taking $8,167,966.
In an era where well-run companies have slashed their expenses, the APS actually increased its spending on wages and salaries.
Membership fees are becoming increasingly vital to our survival. Last year they represented almost half our income (48%) compared to 43% in the previous year.
There’s little evidence in this report that our society practises the financial disciplines drilled into effective managers. When we should be reducing costs, they are actually planning to add more. The new governance proposal will contribute yet another layer of expensive bureaucracy – a large new council of 56 members from across Australia who will have to meet at least twice a year.
What the current Executive Director and successive boards have created is not a vital, efficient not-for-profit enterprise. Instead, they have given us a vast staid, uninspiring, unprofitable bureaucracy, which is steadily consuming its reserves and appears incapable of attracting and/or retaining the sort of energy, flair and talent required to survive in today’s environment.
One obvious reason for so many paid employees is to support the huge network of Member Groups and Committees that has been allowed to mushroom over the years. There are more than 230 member groups – Branches, Colleges and Interest Groups, Divisions, Advisory Groups, Reference Groups, Board committees and working parties.
Why are we channeling precious resources to fund so many member groups? We didn’t have them in the past. Why are they now sprouting like weeds?
The suggestion that member groups provide feedback from members to their representatives is a charade. To a large extent, they are a mechanism for the National Office to dispense privileges and frustrate opposition. Time and again we have seen these member groups oppose and delay the wishes of members.
And why do we need to fund an expensive college system when half our members don’t even belong to a college? If over half the 22,405 generalist members can be funded by one small division (with only nine State representatives) ,why can’t the Colleges cut their costs?
The Society is a top-heavy, unproductive, unwieldy organisation that is crying out for good management.
The Executive Director has been in the job too long and seems incapable of adjusting to a starkly different environment from the one in which, as a regulating body, we amassed solid reserves (which are now steadily being depleted). As someone suggested, we could rename the APS, the Anti-Progress Society.
We could do a lot better with our funds.
We could employ an energetic new chief executive to streamline the society, strengthen the appeal of conferences and publications so they generate more funds, develop new income streams and regain our public voice.
We could find someone well connected politically, who can put the APS on the map again like Kate Carnell did for Beyond Blue in 2012. While Beyond Blue has flourished and become a powerful voice in the mental health field, the APS has languished.
We could employ a truly independent professional lobbyist to represent the interests of all members to government. Someone who could really advocate on behalf of non-clinical members at the Medicare review before it’s too late.
We could have a real governance review and root and branch review of all our services and activities. We might even be able to bring back a lot of disillusioned members.
We will have more insights into our financial affairs in the near future as we work to improve our society.
We could make the APS great again!