It has been a while since I added anything to my blog but having read about the RFU’s financial problems over the last few months I thought it was time to add by two-penn’th. The catalyst was the article in the Telegraph on 1 October where chief exec Steve Brown warned of £20m cuts over the next four years.
I’m not going to pretend that I know where cuts should be made in either the professional or community game, but having spent nine years as a Council Member at Twickenham I think I am better qualified than most to talk about where cuts can be made to Council running costs.
The most effective cut to the budget could be made by decreasing the size of Council. When I joined in 2008/9 the big debate was about the report of the Constitutional Review Task Group (CRTG) which was looking at a number of areas including the composition of Council and who members represented. There were proposals to remove representation from Oxford and Cambridge universities and the National Clubs Association, and to increase the minimum number of clubs for a CB to have representation to 20, forcing those with fewer to combine.
I had experienced how unwieldy a Council of 57 was and I enthusiastically voted in favour of reducing the number, but by colleagues had other ideas and the proposals were not carried. Ironically, within a few years the number of RFU Council Members rose to 60!
Another attempt to reduce member numbers came with the Slaughter & May report in 2014, and although some of its recommendations were adopted, the most recent being a maximum term of nine years for Council Members, the size of Council remained the same.
So despite these attempts to slim down Council, my former colleagues have stubbornly refused to accept any change that may affect their seat at the table. A cynic would point to complimentary tickets, travel and accommodation for England games at Twickenham and in Europe as powerful incentives to maintain the status quo.
I have heard that Council Members have been asked to consider paying for the tickets and meals for their wives and partners, currently part of their entitlement, to save a reported £30k a year, but again this has been turned down.
My proposal is much more radical but could save £300k a year from the approximate Council Services budget of £1½m. I would revisit some of the recommendations of the CRTG and Slaughter & May reports and consider some serious pruning of Member numbers:
- The Army, Navy and RAF each have a representative on Council. Replace these three with one representative for the Services.
- Both Oxford University and Cambridge University have a representative. There is no good reason for this anachronism to continue.
- There is a representative for Womens Rugby which was introduced comparatively recently. It was an appropriate thing to do at the time but with the womens game so integrated in CBs and in an increasing number of clubs, it is no longer necessary.
- The Schools Union and the Students Union each have two representatives on Council; they should be reduced to one each.
- CBs with 60 or more voting clubs are entitled to two Council Members. Seven CBs should have their have two representatives reduced to one; Gloucestershire, Lancashire, Middlesex, Notts, Lincs & Derbyshire (NLD), North Midlands, Surrey and Yorkshire,
- The numbers of clubs in CBs varies enormously and I would propose a minimum of 30 voting clubs for a CB, with those with fewer clubs forced to combine. Berkshire (13 clubs), Buckinghamshire (16) and Oxfordshire (18) would become one CB, while Cumbria (25), Northumberland (21) and Durham(18) would form another.
- The National Clubs Association represents clubs at Level 3 and 4, but these are already represented by geographical CBs. The NCA is primarily a competition organising committee and it can still represent clubs’ views without being on Council.
I am sure that there will be a degree of harrumphing at the idea of reducing the size of Council by 19 but it will still be the largest in international rugby. Well organised CBs should be able to get opinions from clubs and feed them through to their representative on Council, which in a slimmed-down form would be more effective.
The RFU Council is not a popular body amongst grass-roots clubs, their players and supporters, with few understanding what they do and what it is for. They have an opportunity to show they are not the self-serving body that many perceive them as. What is important is that Council is seen to be doing something to contribute towards the £20m cuts over four years that the RFU is seeking; a reduction like this would see over £1m towards the target.