Change Programme, Financial issues, Governance

Carpetbaggers and their customers

David Pilgrim posts…

BPS bullshit has features that illustrate the phenomenon more generally, but are also peculiar to it as a case study in collective deceit and inauthenticity (Christensen, et al, 2019; Frankfurt, 2005). The general features include an indifference to the truth and a concerted effort to massage reality in favour of those in power. The specific features include the recurring silence in the pages of The Psychologist about any news that might expose the grubby crisis in the Society, as well as video propaganda from the Board of Trustees about the President Elect, who they stitched up and spat out. Latterly this BPS bullshit has been joined by Pollyanna blandishments about a new dawn from the illegitimately elected new President Elect, which makes no allusion at all to the wreckage of the past.

Keeping the customers satisfied…..

Recently members (note notionally they are still members), received this in their inbox from ‘the BPS’:

Important information about our new Customer Relationship Management system

We’re getting in touch to let you know that our new Customer Relationship Management system will be launching on Monday 25 October.

This will allow you to manage your membership from one self-service portal on our website, and help us to provide you with a better customer service experience.

To make the change happen, we need to transfer data from our current database across to the new system.

To ensure that this process goes smoothly, from 4pm on Tuesday 12 October there will be some things that you’ll be unable to do within your account.

As you may have seen, we’ve been reaching out to members asking you to update your contact details ahead of the switchover. From 4pm on 12 October, you’ll be able to log in to your account and access the BPS website as normal, but you won’t be able to update details such as your email address, contact details and password.

We will also be unable to take any online subscription payments during this period, while we make sure that our finance infrastructure is integrated with the new system.

For our online communities, events platforms, BPS Learn and our online shop, you will be able to log in with your existing details and access their features as normal, but you won’t be able to update your details within them.

We’re sorry for the inconvenience of a restricted service over the coming days and the short notice about the freeze period. If you have any concerns about how this might affect your membership, or any urgent issues created by the limited functionality, please get in touch with our customer support team at 
info@bps.org.uk or by calling 0116 2549568.

We’ll be in touch again soon with details on how to register for the new portal – thank you for your continued support and understanding while we make this change.”

Fascinating and unnerving stuff

This is fascinating and unnerving stuff. Who are the ‘we’? Why are ‘we’ sort of apologising for an inconvenience? Does this imply members habitually understand and appreciate what ‘convenience’ means? Is membership democracy now defined merely by technical efficiency in a digital system? ‘We’ are ‘reaching out’ (Four Tops style) to members but is this for a hand of friendship or cooperation or opinion or compliance? Will democracy and the individual member’s quality of life be enhanced by their new opportunity to ‘manage’ their membership “…from one self-service portal on our website, and help us to provide you with a better customer service experience…”

Well that all sounds very considerate and ‘customer focused’. We are all now used to this stuff from our dealings with any company or utility in our lives.  ‘Is it OK if I call you David?’ from the phone operative you have never met and never will, in a brief encounter of the commercial kind. I am sure that the junior employees, unnamed in the team, just like underpaid phone operatives, are good people committed to their work. But what is the ideological function of creating this illusion of person-centredness, today, in the organisational car crash of the BPS run by a ruthless cabal? 

The latter have, in their wisdom, asserted their mandate to call members ‘customers’. This is politically disruptive because it turns the historical assumption of collective decision making, and the possibility of eventual membership democracy (still woefully unfulfilled), into a system of atomised consumers. That shift of organisational ideology seals off the membership from having a collective voice. It is one of many aspects now of the members being kept in the dark, reinforcing a tradition already established in a more amateurish way by the old oligarchy. The New Public Management model now puts the seal on that process and gives it a plausible gloss.

The tone of the citation above is a mixture of assured declaration (there is no alternative – this is the way things run nowadays in the BPS, take it or leave it) and ingratiation. It is also both informal in style and totally impersonal. No author is attached and no named source of the policy is identified.  

Whether members make complaints or try to actually engage with employees of the BPS about a serious matter, the typical experience is one of mystification. Communications are unsigned or the person (sometimes simply using their first name) replies on behalf of a ‘team’. The rationale for a reply and the policies or procedures governing them may have no transparent source. 

There is a semblance of friendliness above from the ‘team’ but no clear grounds for establishing actual personal trust, in an objective context, in which the trustworthiness of what is happening at the centre of the BPS is now under such strain. Do ordinary employees (just like ordinary members) really appreciate the trouble the Society is now in? Why are members and employees not talking about the crisis openly? Is that from genuine ignorance, whistling in the dark or fiddling while Rome burns? 

Atomised consumers, personal ‘journeys’ and nervous birds scattering

Some members may wonder why the strategic rhetoric of a ‘journey’ has been so close to the heart of the leadership of the BPS in recent years. One answer is that such a comforting narrative diverts our attention from the pressing need for deliberative membership democracy. Pollyanna vagueness ensures that critical reflection is not required. We all just need to get on board the management-inspired ‘member journey’ train. All happily chugging along in our personally booked seats, there will be no chatter about power, mismanagement and corruption. If this interpretation is in doubt simply read this: The BPS Member Journey. <br/>Co-creating a better future for Psychology — The Social Kinetic. On it we are told that this is “…an ambitious design thinking journey (sic) across the 4 Nations of the UK. Together with The British Psychological Society and its members we co-produced the future vision, plan and roadmap. From Cyber to clinical psychologists – students to influencers…”

The role of the paid consultancy, Social Kinetic, warrants a separate post but my focus here is on the ideology of atomised individualism of the ‘member journey’.  Note the singularity of the ‘member’ – not even a greengrocer’s apostrophe is present to raise a smile. Those individuals are offered a sunny uplands view from the BPS train driven by the cabal. A PhD in critical discourse analysis is waiting in the wings about this online piece. 

One ‘graduate’ tells us anonymously that the “…BPS now really feels so responsive, creative, inclusive and proactive that it’s starting to feel as if being a member is a necessity. And that’s the way it should be. It finally feels like this is really going to happen…” The heartfelt gushing enthusiasm of this statement is clear. However, reading and re-reading it, I have absolutely no idea about what it actually means, especially given the context of the serious BPS crisis. How is the statement at all feasible in reality, given the broken complaints system and policy capture we have demonstrated on this blog?

The (then) BPS Policy Director Katherine Scott (pictured but not named on the Social Kinetic online posting) explains, ‘Its such an important thing for us to bring together our members to co-create solutions and think about the future of the BPS’. Co-creation itself has an ambiguous legitimacy today. The good news is that it entails ‘customer’ involvement. The bad news is that the managers remain in charge and they can selectively attend to the interpretation of the outcome of that involvement (Alford, 2009).

In the context of the current crisis, we would be wise to take all of this management meringue about ‘customers’, ‘journeys’ and ‘co-creation’ with a large pinch of salt. Katherine Scott (The Psychologist, July 2020), in an interview with the editor Jon Sutton, gazed sagely into the future about the direction of the Society. Within months the CEO (just before he was suspended) was announcing that Scott was moving on to work for Lego, to build a different future there (co-created or not). 

The phrase co-creation shows the shallowness of its meaning when we consider the refusal of the BPS to produce a new version to the law and memory report. That was certainly not co-created with the legions of survivors of sexual abuse in our mental health system (Pilgrim, 2018). Instead, the much-needed revisions and updating were halted (despite significant agreement within the working group) on the spurious grounds that consensus could not be reached. Thus the narrow interests of one academic group excluded the wider voice from survivors and those working with them.


A  number of senior managers in the BPS have bailed out in the past two years. This mirrored the disappearance over just a two month period of three elected Presidents.  Also the Finance Director, Harnish Hadani (now in the same role in the National Lottery Community Fund), departed quickly in the heat of the crisis (December 2020).  Hadani failed to prevent the large alleged fraud, which is still awaiting its court hearing but was conceded de facto in the accounts reported at the recent BPS AGM and not even noted as ‘alleged’. In part this may have been a function of his lack of experience of working in the charity sector and his weak appreciation of its notorious vulnerability for financial corruption. Ironically he was appointed in part to deal with the aftershock of a pre-existing fraud in the Society. How many members, I wonder, were aware of that past misdemeanour? (As a technical aside of relevance to public information and trust, the National Lottery, unlike the BPS, does not come within the regulatory scrutiny of the Charity Commission, but instead of the Gambling Commission.)  

Just how many other senior employees now might scatter, like nervous birds, will become evident in the coming months. Their culpability in the crisis might well be protected by the corporate liability of their ex-employer. However, that cover will not be offered to the Board of Trustees (BoT), who as non-employees, present or past, will retain a legacy liability for any misgovernance or corruption that took place under their watch. The clue is in the word ‘Trustee’.

A change of heart not millions misspent

The BPS does not need a multi-million pound ‘Change Programme’, with its ersatz trappings of commercial efficiency, but a genuine change of heart. Such an exercise in truth and reconciliation would be materially inexpensive but personally painful for the recent cabal and the oligarchs of the past. By contrast, ordinary employees and ordinary members have nothing to lose but their current illusion of shared friendliness. At the end of the process, they may find ways of really trusting one another.

Informality is often a tactical part of the con trick of bullshit; ingratiation is a common disarming component of impression management (Goffman, 1959). When mixed with anonymity and other forms of vagueness, the trick is complete. The current offer of a ‘better customer service experience’ is part of a bigger neoliberal cliché, which is pulling the wool over our eyes to disguise profits in big business and the hidden self-serving abuse of managerial power in both the public and charity sectors. In the case of the BPS, we have been turning this topic over in various posts, but this one allows me to revisit briefly the character of the cabal.

The mystifying shenanigans at the centre of the BPS in the past few decades have intensified since the current Senior Management Team (SMT) joined the system in 2018. Because they have refused at all costs to wash their dirty linen in public, any historian of the Society may need to wait a while for the facts to come out. We are doing our best to tell the story that the SMT, the BoT and the editor of The Psychologist do not want the ‘customers’ to hear or see. However, we, like others, have been kept in the dark, despite our amateur sleuthing with a torch. Journalists and litigants hereafter will open up the can for the worms to slither out, but that full slimy technicolour spectacle is to yet come.

What we can say about the cabal, with its habitual secrecy and ‘damage limitation’ modus operandi, is that it is not a monolith. The key BoT meeting in November 2020, with its heavily redacted minutes illustrates this cultural complexity. The CEO was suspended but this was not a unanimous decision. Some Trustees complained about the process of the meeting. So, the older oligarchs were factionalised, with some supporting the power of the SMT and the £6 million ‘Change Programme’, with its hollow rationale and mysterious or absent performance indicators. We are left wondering what differentiated the ‘pro’ from the ‘anti’ Trustee sub-groups. We wait to hear in our perplexed darkness. 

Postmodern carpetbaggers and their allies

I mentioned the here today gone tomorrow senior managers. They are today’s version of carpetbaggers. Most are not psychologists, so they have no respect or affection for, or understanding of, the discipline. Most have passed quite quickly through management roles elsewhere. For example, although the current Deputy CEO, Diane Ashby, is noted on the BPS website for working at Marks & Spencer and the Body Shop, there is a coyness about her role in other ‘change programmes’, when working for Southern Water and West Sussex County Council. 

A further sub-plot in the recent shenanigans relates to HR processes and their failure to head off incompetence or corruption. Were they applied properly and transparently, when the SMT (and, note, their administrative support staff) were all appointed? Were Trustees properly involved with these appointments? Again the future historian may well have something to tell us when the courts, employment tribunals and curious journalists have elicited the answers to these questions.

And although some in the cabal have actually been psychology graduates, this has not guaranteed their loyalty to the long-term integrity of the discipline, as they have got sucked in to political short-termism. It has certainly not ensured their commitment to academic freedom or transparency, or a prioritisation of accountability for their fellow BPS members. They have just become incorporated, wittingly or unwittingly, into the BPS bullshit generator.  

From NHS CEOs and over-paid University Vice-Chancellors to footballers kissing their shirt badge when scoring a goal, knowing their agent has just fixed a more lucrative deal with another club, money and power today encourage short term faux-loyalty and hypocrisy. Non-disclosure agreements with pay-offs are part of the picture; again the history of the BPS told in the future may have something on this topic. Carpetbaggers now come in so many postmodern guises, with their own particular tricky rhetorical skills. Their ‘customers’ are not well served by their antics.

Alford, J. (2009) Engaging Public Sector Clients: From Service Delivery to Coproduction. London: Palgrave.

Christensen LT, Kärreman D, Rasche A. (2019) Bullshit and organization studies. Organization Studies. 40(10):1587-1600. 

Frankfurt, H. (2005) On Bullshit Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 

Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self In Everyday Life New York: Overlook Press. 

Pilgrim, D. (2018) Child Sexual Abuse: Moral Panic or State of Denial? London: Routledge.

Blog Administrator’s note; This is a revised version of the original post.

Board of Trustees, Change Programme, Financial issues, Governance

15 questions about the Change Programme

BPSWatch received the following letter from a counselling psychologist and BPS member. The letter is signed but published anonymously.

Dear BPSWatch,

I am no expert in Change programmes, but I have some common sense observations and questions.  Does anyone outside the BPS SMT know the answers to any of the questions?

1.      So … “The objective of the Change Programme is to deliver the scope agreed by the Board of Trustees at their meeting in June 2019, on time and within budget.”  This is a completely useless response when what the Board of Trustees decided in that meeting is kept secret.  It is highly disrespectful to members.

2.      Have the consultants being used for the change programme changed?  If so when did that happen?  For what reason? And who made the decision to use the first and then switch to the second?

3.      There is a rumour that someone on the BPS SMT has a social relationship with the CEO of Social Kinetic. Is that true?  If so, was this considered as a potential conflict of interest in the appointment?

4.      Did the BPS seek advice from their own expert Occupational Psychologists on the Change Programme?

5.      What was the procurement process?

6.      What is the vision for the change programme?

7.      What are the specific objectives?

8.      What are the outcome measures for each objective?

9.      How were the objectives going to be achieved?

10.   What is the oversight management plan?

11.   How would progress be communicated to the SMT, Trustees and Members?

12.   How were those involved assessed for their competence to deliver the programme?

13.   What was the plan to monitor change communication effectiveness?

14.   Is progress so far considered good value?

15.   Why is there not a document available for members explaining all this?

The best change that I can think of right now would be to have transparency, and open, clear communication from the BPS.

Yours sincerely.

"The Psychologist", Financial issues, Governance

Faux-accountability from the cabal

David Pilgrim posts….

Recently we have been exploring BPS bullshit [see here]. Peter Harvey’s recent post is a good example. He describes a simple request to The Psychologist to have pertinent questions answered in a public space, where the members of the BPS might have his shared curiosity. The letter was not published but passed on to the editor’s employer. A relevant reminder here is that The Psychologist is ‘...the magazine of the British Psychological Society…’. It is not refereed and all decisions about letters and articles rest in the sole hands of the editor.

Critical commentary from David Pilgrim

What can we glean from this exchange? Well, the letter was clearly too hot to handle for the editor of The Psychologist, Jon Sutton, even though its content was relevant for the BPS members who are its readership. Indeed, it raises the question about what – if anything – he might publish in a letter that pertains to the Society (rather than a response to material he has already sanctioned in previous editions). Bullshit is as much about what is not said as what is said (for the philosophically minded this invites an ‘omissive critique’). The past two years have provided those in power with the convenient shared boat experience of the pandemic. However, our collective plight has been used at times as a cover story for evasions that would probably have been there in any case. 

By blocking the publication of the letter in The Psychologist and deliberately opting to hive off the exchange to a personal response to Peter Harvey, this ensured that the whole readership was then kept in the dark about crucial matters. Jon Sutton and Diane Ashby between them yet again limited what was being explored publicly and in the public interest about an organization in crisis. From Ashby the vague descriptions we have become used to are also present in this individualized response. For example, we are offered these two desultory sentence about a grave matter that merits a full discussion for, and with, the BPS membership:

“Once the fraud was discovered an independent investigation was immediately commissioned by the Board of Trustees and actions have been taken based on its findings. You will be aware that the Chief Executive is currently on extended leave from the society.”

Here are some relevant questions that ordinary members might be interested in:

Why did many months elapse between the police investigating the fraud and the CEO being suspended? Why, initially did the Board opt to make the CEO the liaison link with the police? Why was the CEO suspended and not simply sacked? What grounds were discussed in the Board for the suspension option? Did some Board members resist any action being taken against the CEO? What actions have been taken as a result of the investigation? Ashby’s failure to provide routine bulletins to BPS members is part of a strategy from the cabal: remember the vacuous phrases about the Society being at a ‘…crossroads…’ after a ‘…challenging year…’ from Carol McGuinness in her infamous and now removed Youtube video? This vagueness signals that those in power are ‘in the know’ but are not prepared to tell ordinary mortals what they know. 

I suspect that this concerted silence about the material facts of what is happening at the centre of the BPS would have been broken had the Board been dominated by truly independent Trustees, rather than an acculturated cabal with inherent conflicts of interest. Pompous rhetoric about confidentiality was soon their cover story for secrecy. As we do not have an organization with independent Trustees, this is my guess about a path not taken since 1988.

It is important to note that Ashby was primarily appointed to lead the ‘Change Programme’ and at times she has adopted that title in correspondence, rather than ‘Deputy Chief Executive’.   But within the latter role, which she has been in now for nigh on a year, why has she not kept the members informed at all times of the crisis at the centre of the organization? Surely, that would be a primary expectation of the Charity Commission of good management practice. Those absent bulletins from Ashby might have mentioned a few facts that will be of relevance to the history of the Society in years to come. 

Apart from the silence about a major fraud and a fire at the Leicester office, other points for the imagined bulletin board would have been her comments on matters of broken governance. Paraphrasing Oscar Wilde, to lose one President was unfortunate, but to lose two was careless, and to lose three (note over just a two month period) was a governance catastrophe.  Ashby prefers instead to keep up appearances of probity and a ‘problem what problem?’ stance to what is being said in public. 

Other absent items from her bulletins relate to the NCVO commenting on the psychologically unsafe culture in the BPS (reported in Third Sector). No news either from her about the considerable amount of money paid to fancy lawyers, to set in train the removal a radically reforming President Elect, who was both intent on cleaning up the longstanding misgovernance and a whistle blower in waiting. Some members might have a view on whether this vindictive use of lawyers was a good use of their fees. They may have to wait some time for the facts to emerge to make that judgment but those payments were made and, to my mind, their ethics remain in considerable doubt.

Moving from the silences to what Ashby does say above, a first impression is that it seems like a lengthy exercise in transparency, especially compared to the norm from the SMT in the past year of evasions. Demands for accountability from us have been either ignored or, if they have been too persistent, elicited charges of us bullying or harassing BPS employees. Prior to that we were issued with a cease and desist notice for simply mentioning that the CEO was suspended in November 2020. 

At that point the cabal could not discern the difference between material facts (he was and remains on extended leave following his suspension) from matters of confidentiality. Maybe since then their legal advice about that distinction has now prompted Ms. Ashby’s willingness to discuss that material fact in her mail. Maybe members might also be interested in how the resolution to the hiatus in his employment will now be resolved. Such a process itself is a material fact that is known to the cabal but is not being revealed to ordinary BPS members. 

The pressure from the Charity Commission might now be a factor in this seeming change of style from the ‘Deputy Chief Executive’. Although the Commission should have done more to date, they are still ‘engaged’ in relation to changes about the lack of independence of the Board of Trustees and the broken complaints system.

In light of the above silences, why this sort of letter now and what is it actually telling us beyond waffle about everything in the garden being rosy? The answer is that it is the picture Ashby wants us to believe about the purported organisational panacea of the Change Programme. The development of the latter was an early trigger point for the removal of the President Elect. He was demanding, on behalf of the membership, a coherent rationale with credible details attached transparently about the benefits being claimed. The SMT failed to provide the Board of Trustees with that needed information; he stood firm in his demands and he paid a high price. 

This exercise in faux-accountability reveals the political relationship between The Psychologist and those who ultimately control its content. By taking control of the discourse about the current and unresolved crisis, Ashby is doing her best to pretend that the crisis does not exist. But if it does exist then her control of the discourse will eventually become threadbare. The Society will disintegrate and its legitimacy will crumble, whatever we, or Ashby, say or do not say. 

A delusion now common in politics, large and small, is that discourse is everything; that if we can develop the right ‘narrative’ then reality will be what we want it to be. This postmodern Alice-In- Wonderland madness has not just created the implausible contortions of identity politics (another instrumentally embraced convenience for the BPS cabal), it has also led to extra-discursive causal powers being ignored at our peril. Donald Trump said that global warming was not a problem and we should just sweep up leaves differently to stop forest fires. Diane Ashby says everything is under control and no problems of probity exist in the BPS. They are both wrong and this letter to Peter Harvey is a recent illustration of this point.

"The Psychologist", Change Programme, Financial issues, Governance

Where does your money go?

Peter Harvey posts….

For those of you who are not “BPS junkies”, the desire to read the Trustees Annual Report, particularly the 30 pages of accounts, may be low on your list of things to do before you die. So, more out of a sense of duty than for pleasure, I trawled through them in an (admittedly, accountancy-lite) attempt to see how members’ money was being spent. I was particularly struck by some significant sums spent on the Change Programme, high salaries and a £2m loan, so I felt that a more public debate might be of help to the membership, and a letter was sent on 17 August to the editor of The Psychologist, asking him to consider publication. 

Dear Editor,

The constraints in place around this year’s AGM mean that opportunities to ask questions were much reduced. However, in the interests of openness and transparency, I would ask that the membership has answers to the following (and, please, can we have a named, senior office-holder to respond, not an anonymous “The BPS” statement ).

1 The Change Programme has cost each member about £22 this year. Where are the objective, measurable outcomes for what amounts to about 16% of their subscription?

2 The BPS took out a £2 million loan to cover Coronavirus interruption. This is a considerable sum (subject to base rate + 1.69% interest after 12 months) for an organisation that clearly is in a very different financial situation to those businesses which depended on day-to-day income (such as the hospitality sector). The BPS also has over £21 million worth of assets. Why does the BPS add to its debt burden in what looks like an unnecessary fashion?

3 There has been a doubling of staff being paid over £60 000 (from five in 2019 to 10 in 2020). This is likely to have cost around £500 000. Is this good value for money and how is their performance measured in terms of real member benefits?

4 The total cost of these 10 relatively high earners is probably (as an estimate) around £1 000 000. This accounts for about 15% of the BPS’s total salary bill and costs each member (paying full subs)  around £10 p.a. These are the same people who, along with the Trustees, were in post whilst an alleged significant financial fraud took place. What actions has the BPS taken to hold to account any or all of any of these people, paid or otherwise, who are ultimately responsible to the membership for ensuring that there are proper financial controls not only in place but closely and effectively monitored?

You will note that I asked him to “…consider…” publishing, to which I got the reply (by return), “Will do.” (clearly a man of few words). Being a simple soul I wrote back “Not quite clear as to whether the ‘will do’ applies as in ‘will consider’ or as in ‘will publish’?”, to which I got the reply “Will consider.” (clearly no lover of verbosity). So when the October issue appeared – minus my letter  – I contacted the editor:

Dear Jon,

 I see that my letter did not appear in the month’s Psychologist. Does this mean that you are still considering it or that you have chosen not to publish. If the latter, please could you let me know why.

 Many thanks,

 Peter

who replied

Dear Peter,

I’m afraid we didn’t select it for publication. I did encourage senior management to get back to you with a reply; I can chase that if it hasn’t been forthcoming.

Best wishes

Jon

My reply to this was

Dear Jon,

No, I have heard absolutely nothing from senior management. And my question about the reasons for non-appearance remains unanswered.

Best wishes,

Peter

All these were dated 23 September and the next day I got the following email

Dear Peter

I am writing in response to your letter to the Editor of the Psychologist regarding some questions following the AGM on 26 July. As you are aware, AGMs held in 2020 and 2021 were virtual events due to the government guidelines requiring us not to meet in person due to Coronavirus. For both meetings, we asked for questions before the meeting and responded to those as part of the presentations during the event. We also asked for follow up questions to be emailed to our Governance team and we have responded to those via email. I am therefore answering your questions using that approach.

1.      The Change Programme has cost each member about £22 this year. Where are the objective, measurable outcomes for what amounts to about 16% of their subscription?

The objective of the Change Programme is to deliver the scope agreed by the Board of Trustees at their meeting in June 2019, on time and within budget. This is an investment programme so outcomes include:

·      better support for our members to take active roles in the society

·      increased connectivity between member groups

·      updated ways of working which are co-created with our members and reflect changes in the profession

·      modern, up to date IT systems which meet members expectations of a digital world

2.      The BPS took out a £2 million loan to cover Coronavirus interruption. This is a considerable sum (subject to base rate + 1.69% interest after 12 months) for an organisation that clearly is in a very different financial situation to those businesses which depended on day-to-day income (such as the hospitality sector). The BPS also has over £21 million worth of assets. Why does the BPS add to its debt burden in what looks like an unnecessary fashion?

The Board of Trustees agreed to the £2m loan in October 2020 when the implications of Coronavirus were still relatively unknown for the society. It was a way of hedging against any unknown impacts. As you will have seen in the annual report and accounts, the loan can be repaid from the reserves of the society when necessary.

3.      There has been a doubling of staff being paid over £60 000 (from five in 2019 to 10 in 2020). This is likely to have cost around £500 000. Is this good value for money and how is their performance measured in terms of real member benefits?

A new senior management team structure was designed and implemented in 2019 to ensure the strategic plans of the society could be implemented. Some of these roles were more senior than before but all roles were independently evaluated before implementation. Performance is measured against personal objectives which reflect the strategic aims of the society, including member benefits.

4.      The total cost of these 10 relatively high earners is probably (as an estimate) around £1 000 000. This accounts for about 15% of the BPS’s total salary bill and costs each member (paying full subs) around £10 p.a. These are the same people who, along with the Trustees, were in post whilst an alleged significant financial fraud took place. What actions has the BPS taken to hold to account any or all of any of these people, paid or otherwise, who are ultimately responsible to the membership for ensuring that there are proper financial controls not only in place but closely and effectively monitored?

You are in error in asserting that the same people were in post on the SMT and on the Board of Trustees for the entire time the fraud was being committed.

Once the fraud was discovered an independent investigation was immediately commissioned by the Board of Trustees and actions have been taken based on its findings. You will be aware that the Chief Executive is currently on extended leave from the society.

At the AGM in July I said:

I understand that, as members, you will have real concerns about how we protect the money that ultimately comes from your membership fees.

I want to assure you that we’ve learned a great deal from the incident, and have reviewed and significantly strengthened our internal process around expenses and the use of credit cards.

Over the last year, the society has had to navigate a number of highly sensitive and confidential processes, including those directed by the police, legal specialists and our own Member Conduct process.

Some of these process are still ongoing and must remain confidential at this time, but when we are able to, we will provide a fuller explanation. I want to thank you for bearing with us on this.

Yours sincerely

Diane Ashby

Deputy Chief Executive

My initial reaction is that this leaves a number of questionable statements which I will be following-up with Diane Ashby shortly. But I present the story here so far as my initial impetus was to open a public debate (hence a letter to our house journal which proudly proclaims its function as a “…forum for communication, discussion and controversy…”), so please feel free to comment, post and discuss.  A critical commentary from David Pilgrim follows in the next post.

Oh, and the editor still hasn’t told me why he didn’t publish.

Academic freedom and censorship, Financial issues, Governance, Memory and the Law Group

‘The Martians could land in the car park, and no one would care’

Dave Pilgrim posts…

In 1988, the Board structure agreed by the then leaders of the BPS set the scene for the norms of misgovernance and corruption – which we have reported at length on this blog – to grow and thrive.  Two years later Margaret Thatcher had gone, but neoliberalism and managerialism were finding their symbiotic balance and were being embedded in British public organisations, as they became both more bureaucratized and more marketized (Dalingwater, 2014).  The compromise was the New Public Management approach, which was to find a particularly dysfunctional expression in the BPS, as recent events have demonstrated.

In 1989, Del Amitri released their insistently hypnotic Nothing Ever Happens. Good protest songs are enduring; really good ones can be prophetic, hence the title above, which is one of its many spikey lines. To signal the frenetic passivity of recent times, its chorus repeats its own lament of futile repetition: ‘nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all, the needle returns to the start of the song, and we all sing along like before’.  Good lyricists, like good whistle-blowers, are the canaries in our coalmines.

The BPS AGM on the 26th of July 2021 was rigged to celebrate the oligarchy in a feast of scripted mutual backslapping. Another incipient President was confected, in the wake of the show trial, biased appeal, and public disparagement of the expelled whistle blower, Nigel MacLennan. This illegitimate election symbolised, once more, a contempt for integrity and decency in the BPS. 

The two new Presidents (are they both ‘Elect’ and do these terms actually matter anymore, within this chaotic pretence of democracy?) have got their work cut out. If the SMT say ‘jump’, will they ask, ‘how high?’ Alternatively, will they see what is coming down the line and do their best to hold the cabal to account? When put under pressure to conform obediently, as they will, can they really risk being tarred with the same brush of the old guard? This is the grim context for the newcomers to the party: while the Charity Commission prevaricates, the lawyers and the police are closing in on past crimes and misdemeanours. This is a tricky scenario and so the new duo might do well to seek their own legal advice at this stage. 

Within two days of her ‘election’, Katherine Carpenter was ‘delighted’ to unveil the oven-ready ‘New Strategic Framework’, the goals of which I cite here, with some questions in square brackets; many more come to mind, but these are a sample:

  1. We will promote and advocate for diversity and inclusion within the discipline and profession of Psychology and work to eradicate discriminatory practice. [Will this goal require and permit an open democratic discussion of what is meant by all of these terms and how they will be measured or appraised in practice?]
  2. We will strive to create a vibrant member-centred community with a meaningful membership identity. [Will this mean being open with members and not keeping them in the dark about the workings of the Board and the workings of the SMT, in the light of recent history?]
  3. We will promote the value of and encourage collaboration in interdisciplinary development and engagement. [How will that work in practice in relation to other biological and social sciences and will there be a shared commitment to academic freedom and an unambiguous condemnation of censorship?]
  4. We will be the home for all Psychology and psychologists and uphold the highest standards of education and practice. [Will the ethics and complaints system be overhauled radically in order to turn these fine words into practice, under full compliance with Charity Commission expectations?]
  5. We will increase our influence and impact and advance our work on policy and advocacy [Will this work be inclusive of all policy views and value positions in the Society, rather than those which have been captured contingently by some interest groups in the recent past?]
  6. We will strive to be more innovative, agile, adaptive and sustainable. [Will this include being less secretive and censorious than in the recent past or are these words a form of permission for a continuation of the lack of accountability from those in power in the BPS?]”

All of this Motherhood and Apple Pie stuff is so amorphous that it cannot be gainsaid. It all sounds sensible and progressive, but the devil is in the detail. More importantly, look what has happened in the past, when people have tried to put good intentions into practice. 

A number 7 could have been ‘we will confess to and clear up the scandalous mess the BPS is now in after so many years of misgovernance’. That did not make it into the ‘New Strategic Framework’ for the very reason that the rhetorical line of ‘problem what problem?’ has been held firmly by a defensive cabal, pursuing their own vested interests. However, how can ‘we’, the members, have a better a future without owning the truth of the past?

The broadly good intentions of this document motivated the activity of the President Elect, who note was removed illegitimately and then replaced by Katherine Carpenter. He was concerned to make the Society open, and membership centred. He was concerned to defend a Society that was both learned and learning. He was the one who ensured engagement with the Charity Commission to facilitate such changes, and this was resisted by a reactionary Board hostile to his efforts. 

Earlier attempts at ensuring accountability (for example from another removed President, Peter Kinderman) ended in the same process of systemic resistance, reflecting the norm of misgovernance present since 1988.  And although this is systemic resistance (a description), it has been enacted knowingly at times by a social network that remains shameless and self-congratulatory (a motivational explanation) (McPherson, et al., 2001). If this claim is in doubt, witness the fatuous AGM just held. 

In this context of pretence or bad faith, who does the word ‘We’ actually refer to? Is it the Board, the SMT, the membership, some combination, or other people, such as the non-existent truly independent Trustees? Today, investigative journalists trying to find ‘the BPS’ (and the ‘we’ that supposedly embodies it) are like the perplexed foreign student trying to find ‘the university’, among the Oxford colleges (Ryle, 1949). The convenient imprecision throughout the Framework creates ambiguity and a formula for perpetual unaccountability and political mystification in practice. ‘The needle returns to the start of the song and…… 

‘….we all sing along like before’ – an organisation without a memory

The BPS is the antithesis of a ‘learning organisation’. Indeed, it is an ideal case study in cultural dysfunction and selective amnesia, ripe for teams of researchers, whether historians or from management schools. The very idea of a learning organisation or ‘organisation with a memory’ has proved problematic for the NHS (Pilgrim and Sheaff, 2006) but that does have the excuse of being a vast and complex system, employing around 1.5 million staff (Department of Health, 2000). By contrast, the BPS is a medium-sized charity, with just around a hundred employees and less than 70,000, members. The first is a national treasure but the second is becoming (for those who care about it) a national embarrassment. 

Given the size of the BPS, it does have a fighting chance of being a learning organisation. However, for this to be actualised then a starting responsibility is that those of us who are committed to academic values, including freedom of expression, have to be honest about the mess before us. Evading that empirical picture or pretending that this is merely a passing downturn in the fortunes of an essentially honourable institution, which has been kicking around since 1901, looks like the current tactic of the cabal. They favour the convenient ‘this is has been a challenging year’ rhetorical waffle, in order vaguely to play victim and avoid telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the shambles. (This excuse making was on the pernicious YouTube video from Carol McGuinness about Nigel MacLennan, now belatedly removed by the cabal.)

Who will provide the history of this shameful period?

This blog will be archived in the History of Psychology Centre. However, what will be the story for the record told by the current cabal and the older oligarchy, encouraged in their emergence by the structural false start of 1988?  Will it be the heavily redacted Board minutes of November 2020? Will it describe the policy of censorship operated deliberately in relation to its own publications and how BPS employees were used for that purpose? Will it offer the memo demanding that people should close down discussion? Will there be a silence about the departure of the Finance Director while under investigation? Will it mention non-disclosure agreements and the departures of another CEO and another Finance Director under a cloud before the most recent debacle at the top? Will there be an account of why the current CEO (at the time of writing) is still being paid, while absent from his office, with the membership being offered no transparent proposals about the resolution of this ridiculous impasse? 

The questions keep coming for the very reason that the cabal is secretive, and secrecy provokes curiosity, journalistic and otherwise. And because it is secretive ipso facto it is not inclined to elaborate very much for the historical record. More food for thought for the incoming Presidential duo about how history will judge us all.

Talking of looking back…..

When we sent our dossier to the Charity Commission at the end of 2020, it contained several examples of concern that reflected poor governance in the BPS. One related to the closure of the Memory and Law group announced by the Chair of the Research Board, Daryl O’Connor. At the recent AGM noted above, he was made an Honorary Life Fellow of the BPS. Earlier in the month, the other person involved in the announcement, Lisa Morrison Coulthard (Head of Research and Impact), declared via Twitter that she was leaving the BPS after 25 years of employment to join the NFER. Both were central to the development of the existing and outdated report on memory (British Psychological Society, 2008/2010), which was challenged for a decade by alternative voices in the BPS, particularly those emphasising underreported child sexual abuse and its consequences for adult mental health. 

O’Connor and Morrison Coulthard had a clear vested interest in closing down a much-needed review of the evidence, which note had been agreed publicly and on the record on March 26th 2018, under the watch of the then President Nicola Gale. While public inquiries into child sexual abuse have now published their findings in the Australia and are being released episodically in the UK, the only advice available from the BPS is the 2008/2010 report (now archived). It has a narrow focus on false positive decision making based on closed system methodology and its challenge of extrapolation to open systems. For now, the BPS has permitted no reflection on the public inquiries, the social epidemiology of underreported child abuse, the tendency of sex offenders to glibly deny wrongdoing from private scenarios of the past or the evidence on trauma and dissociation (Pilgrim, 2018; Children’s Commissioner’s Report, 2016). 

This suppression of the production of an agreed new review on this matter of grave public interest is an absolute disgrace. It is (yet) another betrayal of democracy and transparency, to add to the many others we have documented on this blog. What chance the success of the ‘New Strategic Framework’, with these inherited mendacious cultural norms? If, in the future, the BPS is to regain a sense of honourable self-possession as a charity, a membership organisation and a truly learned Society, then people will surely be rewarded for their short-term, not long-term, contributions. Why is hanging around year on year, or being recycled in different leadership roles to exclude new voices, a badge of honour and not of shame in a membership organisation? 

The oligarchy may now be disintegrating by sheer dint of the years passing. This creates the space for a new ethos and for considered reflection on this cultural inertia and its ethically dubious norms of self-perpetuated authority.  After the police, lawyers and Charity Commission have done their work in the coming months, then the BPS still has a fighting chance to regain its credibility and become a learning organisation. 

New people with integrity will be needed for this optimistic scenario. The stitched up and scandalously disparaged ex-President Elect could be their role model. Trustees need to be truly independent to displace the current sham of a Board. The SMT must be accountable to the Board and not dictate to it. Financial matters must be transparent at all times to the Board. The membership must be kept informed, not in the dark. Censorship should have no place in a learned organisation. 

Food for thought indeed for the incoming Presidential duo. I do not envy them their considerable challenge.

References

British Psychological Society (2008/2010) Guidelines on Memory and the Law Recommendations from the Scientific Study of Human Memory.  Leicester: British Psychological Society.

Children’s Commissioner’s Report (2016) Barnahus: Improving The Response to Child Sex Abuse in England London: UK Children’s Commissioner’s Office 

Dalingwater, D. (2014) Post-New Public Management (NPM) and the Reconfiguration of Health Services in England. Observatoire de la Société Britannique, 16, 51-64.

Department of Health (2000) An Organisation With A Memory: Report of an Expert Group on Learning from Adverse Events in the NHS London: Stationery Office.

McPherson, M. Smith-Lovin, L. and Cook, J.M. (2001) Birds of a feather: homophily in social networks. Annual Review of Sociology 27, 1, 415–444. 

Pilgrim, D. (2018) Child Sexual Abuse: Moral Panic or State of Denial? London: Routledge.

Pilgrim, D. and Sheaff, R. (2006) Can learning organisations survive in the newer NHS? Implementation Science 1, 27, 1-11.

Ryle, G. (1949) The Concept of Mind London: Hutchinson.

Financial issues, Governance

How much does the future of the BPS actually matter to you?

We began this blog and the associated Twitter feed because we were all extremely concerned about what we see as the misgoverance of an organisation that we gave our time and energy to over many years because we believed in what it stood for. What we have seen in recent years is an increasing distancing of those that run the BPS from its membership – as our posts and out tweets demonstrate. The recent expulsion of the President Elect exemplifies the parlous state of the BPS. 

We have had some feedback from people who are of a similar opinion to us, some of which has appeared here, and it’s helpful to know that our concerns are shared by others. We have also had many informal comments of support either applauding our efforts or telling us of similar experiences with this failing organisation. Disturbingly, we have been told of those who, after working hard on behalf of the Society, have left feeling betrayed and traumatised by their experiences. More evidence that change is needed urgently.

But, and it is a big but, we are retired from practice and at are a distance from active involvement in the BPS. Frankly, whether it survives or not will have little practical impact on our lives professionally although its demise would cause us great sadness. But its continued existence as a thriving, member-led organisation which represents the best of UK psychological thinking and practice matters, perhaps never more so than now. Over the half-century that we have been psychologists we have seen such enormous strides made in how psychological practice has grown in maturity and relevance. Psychologist of all sorts and conditions are listened to with respect and can speak with authority. When we started out it was psychiatry that was seen as the ‘go-to’ source of expertise in matters psychological – no more. Psychologists can be proud of the strides that it have made over the years. And that process is almost entirely due to those psychologists, members of the BPS by-and-large, who were willing to spend time and energy to build the discipline, the profession and the BPS. That psychology has got to where it is today is due almost entirely to the hard work – often against the odds – of those who cared deeply and passionately about their discipline. They were not professional, go-anywhere managers – they were psychologists who believed in what psychology could do.

So this is a plea to all those of you who want to be represented by an organisation of which you can be proud. An organisation that reflects and promotes psychology to the benefit of all and of which membership can be seen as badge of honour. The BPS can be this – it is clearly not this right now. Its future cannot depend on the likes of us old codgers alone. It must involve those of you who are still out there, working as psychologists, on whose future the health of a thriving BPS is dependent. It is your responsibility more than ours. 

This is a critical time for the BPS. The current ‘leadership’ is engaged in highly unprofessional actions for which they are not being held accountable. The BPS has no senior member-elected officers. The fact that the Charity Commission is heavily involved is a serious warning sign. There is a commitment of £6 million (yes, £6 million of your money) to an ill-specified and inadequately scrutinised change project. There is a £2 million loan (securitised against two BPS-owned properties) with no CFO or CEO in post to manage or oversee these vast financial commitments. 

This needs you (yes, you) to act now. Be prepared to be rebuffed and ignored or accused of harassment if you express you concerns to the current BPS officials. Write to the Charity Commission with your comments. Read and contribute to the blog. Email the blog – BPSWatch@btinternet.com. Read and forward the Tweets  – @psychsocwatchuk. Share your experience with others.

It’s your Society – and your responsibility to rescue it.

Peter Harvey

Board of Trustees, Financial issues, Governance

Twenty Tough Questions for ‘the BPS’

Questions are coming thick and fast from colleagues new to the story of the crisis in the BPS. Of course, they are new to it because, amongst other things, the Board of Trustees (BoT) and Senior Management Team (SMT) have been secretive about the facts. In the past year nothing has appeared in The Psychologist (relevant note: ‘the magazine of the British Psychological Society’) to give the slightest hint of any organisational problems. The CEO’s monthly homilies petered out with no editorial explanation. The President, who has recently resigned, made absolutely no mention of the troubled state of the organisation in her final ‘reports’.

This blog and an increasing number of reputable journalists are now bringing into public gaze the extent of organisational dysfunction in the Society. We have been trying our best to do what the BPS has palpably failed to do in relation to transparency. However, we are not private detectives or forensic accountants and nor do we have the investigatory powers of the Charity Commission. The latter is hovering nearby, but to date it has not fully disclosed its intentions in relation to its ongoing ‘engagement’ with the BoT. Given the very large file of complaints against the Society, we are left wondering what will be the tipping point for them to announce a Statutory Inquiry.

The 20 questions that require answers

Here we raise some questions crossing our minds and those put to us by perplexed colleagues. Ipso facto, we cannot answer them definitively but we can pose them in good faith on behalf of the membership.

  1. Why is the CEO still in post and being paid (from membership fees) but ‘not in his office’?

2. The Finance Director left the Society abruptly just before Christmas last – what were the circumstances surrounding that departure?

3. Was the expelled President Elect genuinely allowed to conduct his duties and was he given access to information appropriate for that task?

4. Was there a deliberate strategy on the part of the BoT and SMT to marginalise and disempower him, given his election pledges to rectify governance problems in the Society?

5. Was there a large fraud conducted in the Society that is still being investigated by the police? 

6. What recruitment checks were conducted on the person who was alleged to have committed the fraud?

7. Who appointed this person?

8. Was the arson attack on the Leicester office during this period of turmoil (unreported to the membership) linked in any way to the alleged fraud investigation?

9. Did the BPS report the arson to the Charity Commission, as it is supposed to do under their guidance?

10. Why did the SMT refuse to give the BoT access to critical information, about the £6 million ‘change programme’?

11. What oversight was the BoT providing of the SMT and how was the effectiveness or otherwise of that oversight assessed? 

12. Did the BoT consider that its culture of information restriction, which we have experienced directly ourselves, reasonable for a membership organisation professing a value of openness and transparency?

13. Why did the BoT make public the alleged grounds for the expulsion of the President Elect in advance of his appeal?

14. How can the President Elect have a fair appeal, when it appears to have been already prejudiced?

15. In light of answers to the above questions, has the President Elect been subjected to a ‘kangaroo court’ or ‘show trial’?

16. Was there a planned and wilful campaign to remove the President Elect by the BoT and SMT, as both a radical reformer and a whistle blower, as soon as he was elected?

17. Have journalists making legitimate enquiries, about all of the above matters, been threatened with legal action by the BPS?   

18. Had the Vice-President, who resigned citing concerns about finance and governance, already ensured that those concerns were reported fully to the Charity Commission?

19. The ACAS definition of bullying is this: “Offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, involving an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.”  Accordingly, does the action of broadcasting a video denouncing the President Elect constitute bullying by the BPS? 

20. Finally, does the BoT now knowingly have a policy to ward off legitimate questions from members about governance matters, by alleging that the questioning, in of itself, constitutes bullying and harassment of BPS staff? 

The final question is rhetorical; as victims of this tactic we can vouch that the answer is in the affirmative. Some of the questions on the list relate to criminal matters and others to aspects of due diligence and common decency. Ordinary members not only pose them now on reasonable grounds, but they deserve reasonable answers. The BoT have warded off the inconvenient truth surrounding the questions, using a mixture of silence, glib evasions, bureaucratic obfuscation and legal threats. 

Is this how we expect a properly functioning learned organisation to operate, with its rhetorical adherence to the principle of openness and transparency? We ask readers to please send us any other questions that come to mind, which we might have missed from the above list. If we cannot answer them we can at least share them.

We will be posting some more detailed analyses of these questions over the course of the next couple of weeks.

The BPSWatch Editorial Collective