Last Wednesday, a story broke about the BDA’s financial problems leading allegedly to many redundancies among its staff.
The reason for this apparently was that, when they introduced the three tier membership system three quarters of its members chose the cheapest option, some decided not to renew and very few went for the two more expensive types of membership. Result, a black hole in subscription income and a need to retrench.
One expert on crisis management, who worked in the Clinton White House, so had plenty of experience said: ‘Tell it early, tell it all and tell it yourself.’
The BDA obviously had not heard of this and went into the mode I came to know well when I worked for them. This was: ‘Tell nobody anything; ignore those troublemakers who spread stories.’
So, 24 hours after the story broke a statement (for members only) appeared on the BDA website.
It said: ‘The BDA is responding to member demand by re-shaping itself to ensure that it reflects and meets their needs following the launch earlier this year of a suite of new membership packages.’ Martin Fallowfield chair of the principal executive committee said: ‘The reorganisation will, unfortunately, mean that some current BDA staff will be leaving the Association.’ He wished them well in their future careers.
The majority of members have therefore gone for ‘Essential’ membership. This includes trade union representation, information and advice, including the library and Journal, being able to earn and manage your CPD hours and preferential rates for BDA activities. What you don’t get is ‘personal one-to-one advice’ unless you pay at least an extra £500 for the higher grades.
If what members want to get their advice is ‘access to over 5,000 website pages’ rather than a phone call to an advisor then that is their decision. And the BDA must respond to it, presumably by reducing the number of advisors they have. But what of the quality of these 5,000 webpages? And how easy are they to navigate?
Even old fogeys like me have to learn to pick their way around commercial websites.
So, I logged on to the BDA website as a member to see how it fared. First, I was an associate who had heard that there were problems in some practices with crediting such as me with their correct NHS superannuation contribution.
Putting in NHS pensions into the search engine yielded over 900 results but none on the first two pages that were relevant to my query: ‘How can I be sure that I am credited with the right amount of superannuation?’ There was nowhere I could find any FAQs, although there was a beautifully produced advice sheet on the NHS superannuation scheme.
Next I was a pregnant associate. I wanted to know what my rights were and what the position was over the NHS maternity allowance. Again the pdf of an advice sheet telling my boss what maternity rights their employees had. But I am a self employed associate not an employee.
So, three bits of advice from me to the BDA if they want to reshape themselves.
1. Make the website easy to navigate.
2. The web is a different medium from print; rewrite your advice in a different format to reflect this.
3. Your readership will be predominately associates; make sure your advice is relevant to them rather than practice owners.