Letter from Anglers Conservation Association Chairman
Accompanying this letter to you is a formal statement regarding the departure of Mr and Mrs James from the Association. You will have deduced that I am constrained from making comments in relation to their departure, as are the rest of the Committee of the Association.
However, no such constraints are placed on me in making comments on the way the Association has been managed over the last five or six years. Of necessity, this will be a lengthy and comprehensive report. In my term of office, I intend to instil a culture of transparency and accountability and while I am in the Chair, I assure you that the Association will be run for the benefit of its members. There is a very great deal to be proud of, but this has not always been publicised in the way it should.
Nevertheless, I realise that if the Association is to keep your support for the future I need to explain fully what has happened in the past.
I have been involved with fishing ever since I could walk. For over ten years I have been involved in fisheries management, firstly through the Wye and Usk Foundation - a charity that I co-founded and now serve as Executive Director. More recently I joined the Associationís Committee and earlier this year I was privileged to become your Chair. I give my time to the Association freely and without receiving payment.
From the moment of my involvement with the Association, I was struck by the lack of information given by management to both the Committee and members. It is in my view essential to establish a proper two way communication between the Associationís staff and its Committee and most importantly, with you the members.
The Association is a not-for-profit organisation and is able to operate thanks to the generous funding by its members. This enables the Association to bring civil claims against those who pollute or otherwise damage membersí lakes, streams, rivers and waterways. The Association also advises on a range of other legal issues. This acts as both a deterrent to polluters and a way of recovering damages for members to get their fisheries going again.
The Associationís key staff are therefore its legal team Ė solicitors and their assistants. What the Association does, no other angling organisation can do. This fact appears to have been ignored by the outgoing senior officers. During their period in charge, four solicitors were lost in one way or another. One was recently reinstated by the Committee and another has been persuaded to stay, but, some years ago, a third had to be expensively paid off to head off a potential constructive dismissal claim. It seems she had refused to sign the Trustee Companyís accounts. A fourth solicitor was lost altogether.
There are a large number of other board and staff members who have found their position made untenable by the out-going Director, following their criticism of the way the Association had been managed.
In addition, throughout this period (1998Ė2004) it was often heard that progress was made in recruitment of members and securing income. However, a true analysis of the accounts shows otherwise. Against this, the wages, perks and other emoluments paid to senior non-legal staff continued steeply upwards to what can only be described as over-generous levels, so that by 2003 more than 1/3 of all the Associationís total expenditure related solely to the cost of employing Mr and Mrs James. It should be remembered that these rises were against a background of financial losses, in some years severe. Interestingly during the same period the expenditure and costs of running the legal department never rose above 19% of the whole annual budget.
Furthermore, much of the Directorís work was carried out by outside suppliers at the Associationís expense. For example, in tracing why the auditors charged the Association three times the expected amount when compared with similar-sized organisations, it transpired that they undertook the most basic financial tasks when it would be realistic to expect these to be done Ďin houseí.
I am sure you will understand that a Committee which only meets four times a year simply cannot supervise every aspect of the day to day management of the Association and, as such, reliance is placed on the Director to furnish the Committee with all the relevant information needed to steer and guide the Association. However, key accounts over the entire period, that should have been sent to Committee were found in the outgoing Directorís filing cabinet. Whilst many of these issues were discussed at meetings, more often than not acrimoniously, some Committee members found their positions made untenable having dared to ask critical questions. They felt the only proper course of action was to resign.
I accepted the Chair to reconcile these internal problems and to progress the Associationís core business, which is the legal work. I am happy to say that although the Association has endured a testing time, we have retained out first class legal team and, as I see it, there is a never ending flow of cases to be won on your behalf. Already morale among staff and Committee has improved dramatically. To this end the Committee and I wish to suggest a route to take the Association forward.
1) The Committee believes that a single competent person could be employed as PR Officer and Director.
2) At present the Association can tackle only a very small fraction of the pollution cases, both those that do and donít result in criminal prosecution by the Environment Agency. The problem is that the Association can only act legally for owners or tenants of fisheries that are affected, and not directly for individual anglers themselves. The Association will therefore make a huge effort to recruit angling clubs, fishery owners and other organisations for whom the Association can act in legal proceedings. Ideally, there must be no stream, lake, waterway or pond in relation to which the Association cannot act.
3) The Associationís constitution needs updating. At present the Association is an unincorporated body linked to a Trustee Company so that it is able to own, for example, our building. There are also special requirements for employing in-house lawyers which the Association must meet.
4) The Association needs to approach those true supporters who left the Committee and the Association in recent years. There is a vast groundswell of support for a well-run Association and this must be tapped into. Very influential individuals who have not been able to work with the past senior officers must be welcomed back on board.
5) The Associationís budget and staffing levels should be tailored to reflect income and the requirements of the Associationís work. More people to tackle the legal work, and less waste.
6) As a longer term goal, the Association may be able to become a registered charity. This would confer a number of advantages. It would automatically ensure better financial control. It would allow certain beneficial tax breaks, making your subscriptions go further. The Association would also be in a position to tackle many more cases.
I believe that what you, the members want is a first class legal service that takes expensive and difficult legal action on your behalf. I would like polluters and those who harm fisheries, and their insurers, to tremble when they hear the name ďACAĒ. They must know that the Association will make pollution or damaging fisheries so expensive for them that the only sensible alternative is the fund all the proper controls and measures to avoid causing damage in the first place.
The Association needs your continued support to bring about these changes and I ask that you give the new Committee your continued support. The proof will be in next yearís annual report and also in the accounts. Please let us have your views and please can you can use email (to email@example.com) if possible, as communication by e-mail is a very cost effective way for the Association to keep in touch with you. Our website is www.a-c-a.org
With my very best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.
Dr Stephen Marsh-Smith
As a life member and the recipient of an Illuminated scroll in 1989 for my work for the association. I feel we all need to get behind the Chairman and committee at this crucial time in the ACA's history. Remember the organization is far bigger than any individual. Angling needs the ACA to take on the polluters, and this should be the only job for this worthy organization. We do not need a glossy magazine which has cost a lot of money in the past Money which could have been used against the polluter. Every member should receive a yearly balance sheet and be invited to attend an AGM to be held in the Midlands. Finally the pay off to Mr and Mrs James (no relation) should be shown in the balance sheet. We have a right to know.