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

"The Psychologist", Board of Trustees, Expulsion of President-Elect, Governance

The legitimation crisis and a membership denied answers

David Pilgrim posts….

Today, the concept of a ‘legitimation crisis’ can be applied clearly to the BPS. Although explored at length in a book with that title by Habermas (1974), many other social and political scientists have returned to the theme. This is about leadership regimes, which may notionally still retain power, but their strained credibility reflects an imminent or current breakdown in their actual authority. The cabal currently at the centre of the BPS is still in power but its credibility is in rapid decline. It lacks what Eric Fromm, in his book The Sane Society, called ‘rational authority’ and, instead, exercises power on its own terms in order to ward off the stream of criticism warranted. For Fromm this would be an expression of ‘irrational authority’.

On this blog we have been reporting the character and history of this crisis in recent months and each entry, such as this one, is a new take on an unprecedented state of affairs for the Society. The occasional flurry of criticism of rogue celebrity researchers, such as Cyril Burt (Joynson, 1988) or Hans Eysenck (Marks, 2018), barely dented the reputation of the BPS. Similarly, the spat between the Maudsley methodological behaviourists and their scorned psychodynamic colleagues from north of the Thames, in a struggle to control the Medical Section and its journal, led to a temporary closure of its business in 1958 (Pilgrim and Treacher, 1991). These small eruptions of doubt, that all was well in the BPS, pale into insignificance today. We have never seen anything like this, either in living memory or in the literature on the history of British psychology. Those past examples, looked at in the current context, are like comparing a bar room brawl with a military coup. 

In meetings of the Board of Trustees today all of the Presidential triumvirate have gone, so it contains nobody elected from the general membership. Unelected Senior Management Team members now outnumber Trustees from the sub-systems. This trend is now amplified by the Board preventing members electing a replacement for the radically reforming President Elect, after expulsion from the Society, a cue for the next main point.

The public disparagement of Nigel MacLennan

The video released, vilifying the President Elect in advance of his appeal being submitted and heard, is a complete outrage. It offends our normal understanding of natural justice and leaves the Board of Trustees, who planned its production and dissemination on YouTube, open to the charge of unethical and possibly illegal activity. Are the Trustees so determined to crush this man’s reputation that they will simply ‘do anything that it takes’? 

It is officially the position of the BPS (according to its own website for all to read) not to investigate individual members. However, does that claim fail to apply only when it is politically expedient for the interests of the incumbent leadership? Are the members seriously expected to believe that this has been anything but a ‘stitch up’ from start to finish? Was the investigation panel hand-picked by the Board of Trustees or not? How many on that panel were truly independent and without their own vested interest in the current regime of power? Were membership funds used liberally by the Board to hire legal advice in order to justify the scapegoating of a reformer, turned whistle blower? The questions go on and on. Some of them ultimately may be resolved in court but what is clear already is that Nigel MacLennan has not been treated in a fair manner, if we use everyday criteria of common sense and decency.

If the stitch up hypothesis is in doubt, look at how Carol McGuinness, in a follow-up document to that unedifying and ill-advised video, made it quite clear that even if Nigel MacLennan were to be re-instated on appeal, as a member of the Society, he would still not be permitted back to his role as the President Elect. This nothing-left-to-chance approach, reflecting the persecutory intent of the Board, sticks out like a sore thumb in this planned and vindictive attack on a man whose career has now suffered immediate detriment. 

I can find no justification for this pre-emptive strike from McGuinness, on behalf the Board, within the Statutes and Rules. Does she offer no rule-based rationale in the script she is reading because one simply does not exist? This brings us back to Fromm’s notion of ‘irrational authority’. Those in power often do and say things, simply because they can. But do we have to believe this travesty of justice? And given that under Statute 20 of the Society, the Board should have been chaired on an interim basis by MacLennan not McGuinness, is there an Alice in Wonderland feel to this whole scenario? 

We know that such a surreal quality can indeed emerge from group think, especially when it leads to scapegoating in order to create an illusion of homeostasis and harmony (Baron, 2005; Leyens et al. 2000). The warring factions of the SMT and the Trustees could take temporary comfort in a common enemy to be eliminated, but the facts of the crisis are still there, with or without the removal of MacLennan. Facts do not disappear because they are ignored conveniently by displacement activity or an ostrich stance.

Keeping the membership in the dark

If a making-the-rules-up-as-you-go-along approach to governance now characterises the workings of the cabal, then another supportive tactic has been information control. Nowhere has this been more obvious than in the silence in the pages of The Psychologist. An exception has been the printing of the statement about the expulsion of MacLennan from McGuinness (giving the BPS a free noticeboard posting without editorial comment or analysis), as well as the link to her video. No right of reply was offered to MacLennan. If this were a normal magazine it would reflect the normal rules of journalism and both sides of a story would have been offered, or at least taken into account.

However, this is not a normal magazine. For example, the political turbulence in the Society, should have warranted some commentary but none has been evident. Its inside cover reminds us every month that it is ‘…the magazine of the British Psychological Society…’. If this means that it obeys the contingent expectations of those running the BPS, then this is actually a fair and valid description. However, maybe members of the Society have broader expectations (such as it being a forum for free debate about the current legitimation crisis). Such expectations are indeed raised, conveniently, by the subsequent cover description ‘…It provides a forum for communication, discussion and controversy among all members of the Society…’. Has there been any actual sign of the latter, in practice, in the past turbulent year? Why are ordinary members still playing catch up about the financial scandal in the Society, the fat file of complaints being held by the Charity Commission and the expensive legal shenanigans to expel Nigel MacLennan?

During the crisis, the monthly column of the Chief Executive Officer suddenly disappeared without editorial comment, and we slowly became aware that he was ‘not in his office’ and his function was then taken on by his Deputy, Diane Ashby. And before the President, Hazel McLoughlin, also disappeared from the pages because she had resigned, citing family reasons, the content of her column revealed nothing to the membership of the chaos and tensions, which led to the resignation of the Vice President David Murphy. He explained on Twitter that this was because of his concerns about both governance and finance.  

However, the role of this ‘magazine’ has not gone unquestioned. For example, here is a reply to Pat Harvey from the editor (12.12.20) responding to her criticism of The Psychologist failing to provide information of legitimate concern to the BPS membership:

We are not a ‘house journal’, we are a magazine. Our responsibility is not to speak for the Society or to align with any documents it might publish; it is to provide a forum for communication, discussion and controversy among members and beyond.

This restatement of the confusing and contradictory blurb, cited earlier from the inside cover of The Psychologist, does not cease to be confusing and contradictory simply because it is robotically restated. Does the membership deserve a better journalistic service, during the current legitimation crisis of the BPS, than this sort of vacuous rhetorical gambit? The supine post-it-board role offered by The Psychologist on behalf of the current BPS leadership, reminds us of one of many of Orwell’s dire warnings about democracy: ‘Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.’

The exchange between Pat Harvey and the editor of The Psychologist, Jon Sutton, did not end with the above restated confusion. She also wrote to the Chair of the Editorial Advisory Committee, Richard Stephens, starting with a complaint about the narrow and prejudicial role of The Psychologist, when being biddable and posting the offensive video. She made other criticisms of the magazine as well. This was the response she received from Stephens:

Thanks for your letter and for raising these concerns. I plan to table these for discussion at the next meeting of the Psychologist and Digest Editorial Advisory Committee on 24th June. I felt that your first raised point warranted some urgency of response so I discussed it today with our editor, Jon Sutton. Jon’s view was that while the video featuring Professor Carol McGuinness as Interim Chair of the Board of Trustee has been widely disseminated among BPS members, it is unlisted on YouTube. Given that The Psychologist has a much wider audience, Jon reflected that it’s inclusion in the piece “‘The Society is at a crossroads’” was not appropriate. On that basis the video has been removed. I will feedback in due course following our meeting on the 24th

This is a small sign of good sense and fairness from Richard Stephens, although at the time of writing the video is still available on YouTube.  Will this be the start of a period of genuine honest reflection from the Advisory Committee? Would the video have been removed had it not been for these critical questions from Pat Harvey? In my view, it seems as though those below the cabal level in the Society are very slowly waking up to the serious challenges that the legitimation crisis is posing for freedom of expression and balanced and open journalism in the future pages of The Psychologist. Elsewhere on the blog I have addressed the matter of censorship in the Society.

The ethical and legal culpability of the Trustees

The Charity Commission continues to work with the Society to bring it into ‘regulatory compliance’. This raises questions about the role of the Trustees in the recent past. How many of them (other than Nigel MacLennan), out of public interest, took their concerns about poor governance and financial irregularities to the Charity Commission or the press? 

Many resignations have been evident in recent months, including the President and Vice President. Are they now prepared to offer a full and frank account to the membership of what happened in the Board, which went so badly wrong? This could be a starting point for the ‘root and branch’ reform now required, to reverse the demise of the organisation. 

Will they admit that the conflicts of interest inherent to the current definition of a Board (which date back to a lack of specificity in the Royal Charter arrangements in 1988) have been routinely out of sync with current expectations of properly independent trustees in charities today? The current Board of Trustees is a sham because its members all have conflicts of interest and there are no outsiders from the Society to offer impartial oversight. Given the legitimation crisis, should the current Trustees at least own up to this basic fact, resign and insist on a properly constituted Board in line with Charity Commission expectations?  

And if it turns out that the negligence, or worse, of some Trustees has cost the BPS dearly, will they be held liable for these costs, as Charity Commission regulations allow? Will BPS members now seek to hold Trustees liable for the seeming losses incurred to the Society, by their apparent lack of oversight? Will that liability also extend to those who resigned but were in place during that period of apparent lack of oversight (in legal terms this is called ‘legacy liability’)?

This particular legitimation crisis, like all others, never stops posing questions for democracy. We all (not just a few pushy malcontents) need to keep asking them. The passivity in our current zeitgeist about trying to influence events around us does not have to lead to fatalism. We can still challenge the cabal and the current shambles in the BPS, as this blog and Nigel MacLennan have already demonstrated. The more of us taking up this challenge, the less likely that victimisation will be seen and the more likely that the Society will be saved from its own self-inflicted wounds. 

Baron, R. (2005). So right it’s wrong: Groupthink and the ubiquitous nature of polarized group decision making. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. 37: 35.

Habermas, J. (1974) Legitimation Crisis Boston: Beacon Press. 

Joynson, R. B. (1989). The Burt Affair. New York: Routledge

Leyens, J. Ph., Paladino, M. P., Rodriguez, R. T., Vaes, J., Demoulin, S., Rodriguez, A. P., & Gaunt, R. (2000) The emotional side of prejudice: The attribution of secondary emotions to ingroups and outgroups. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 4, 2, 186–97.

Marks,D.F  (2019) The Hans Eysenck affair: time to correct the scientific record Journal of Health Psychology 24, 4, 409–42.

Pilgrim, D. and Treacher, A. (1991) Clinical Psychology Observed London: Routledge.

Board of Trustees, Expulsion of President-Elect, Governance

The End of Membership Democracy in the BPS?

The campaign in the self-serving bunker at the centre of the BPS continues unabated. Its main character, which we have documented in our posts in the past few months, includes a number of strands. Some reflect the tactics of evasion and secrecy. They include complaints being ignored, as well as concerns (that are not complaints) being turned into complaints and sent into a rabbit hole.  The complicit non-reporting of the crisis in ‘the magazine of the British Psychological Society’ has been a trusted management mechanism to keep members in the dark. Dictates have been sent out by ‘Trustees’ to Senate members to demand their silence in a comical pantomime of control freakery.

Other tactics have involved clear projection: a bullying and high-handed culture of management has accused its critics of being the bullies. The power asymmetry here between the parties is ignored but that acknowledgment would require a capacity for honest reflectiveness. Journalists just doing their job in a democracy have been threatened with legal action. By any standards of common sense and fair judgement, this precarious regime of power has had a probity bypass. 

The most egregious example of this has been the ‘investigation’ and subsequent expulsion of the President Elect. His sin was to be open from the beginning about reforming the governance arrangements in an organisation which, for years, had flouted the normal expectations of charity law and good practice guidelines offered by the Charity Commission.

What price membership democracy?

The literal price of being in the BPS is known to its membership. For now, some of those fees are maintaining the high salary of a CEO who is still ‘out of the office’, so remains unable to fulfil his duties. Those in the bunker have told us nothing, so members are left to speculate. 

In the few days that have elapsed since the expulsion of the President Elect was announced (in a scripted account – crafted by whom?), matters have deteriorated further. The unprecedented video from the ‘Interim Chair’ of the Board of Trustees was a callous public disparagement of the President Elect. Speaking from an office and role that, under Statute 20 of the Society, she still has no right to hold, her personalised career-threatening attack upon him remains on Youtube for the world to see.

This scandal now has worsened.  A rapid election is to be held to replace the summarily deposed President-Elect before his appeal has even been heard. From well before he took office there were overt intentions to obstruct him wherever possible. We believe that there is evidence to support this that will be made public. Like the ‘investigation’ of the allegations against him this is a travesty. History will judge those responsible for deposing him, so this faux process of justice will peter out to its discreditable conclusion.

In case members are getting too excited about choosing someone new and untainted by what has gone before, they need to be prepared for a disappointment. This is the score. Only candidates from the current Board of Trustees or Senate members will be permitted to stand. This is the very group under whose ‘oversight’ the Charity Commission has become involved on an ongoing basis. There is an active police investigation into an alleged major fraud (watch this space next month). The self-same group from which the Vice-President resigned,  citing issues about “…governance oversight, escalating expenditure and lack of openness and transparency…”, which he communicated to the Charity Commission.  Former President, Professor Peter Kinderman, informs us that several years ago “…When I was President, I was routinely excluded from key decisions, was threatened with legal action over ‘fraud’ (I was completely exonerated, of course) and forced to resign (as Vice-President) for advocating for what is now effectively BPS policy…” .

What sort of real choice are members now given?   

The candidate will be drawn from a pool of complicit individuals. They assume that everything in the garden is rosy and the much-vaunted £6 million Change Programme will supercharge the BPS, when the membership to date have been shown no substantive evidence to support this wishful thinking. 

Meanwhile, for now, any vestige of membership democracy has been placed on indefinite hold. We can only hope that needed legal proceedings, active media interest and decisive action from the Charity Commission will, between them, resolve this sinister and shameful demise of the public face of psychology in the UK once and for all. 

BPSWatch – Editorial Collective

Governance

The BPS is unfit for purpose

This was originally sent as a comment to our post ‘The Crisis deepens…’ We felt that it was important enough to stand on its own as a separate post.

TheBPSWatch Editorial Collective.

I am Professor David Marks, membership number 3829, a Chartered Member with FBPsS, currently a member of the Division of Health Psychology, previously a member of other groups and networks. I joined the BPS as a student in 1963. After completing a BSc and PhD I worked in universities in the UK and overseas carrying out teaching administration and research. I have practiced as a psychologist and worked as a consultant to multiple organisations within the NHS, industry and voluntary sectors. I served as Head of Department at two large Psychology Departments, firstly at Middlesex University, where I worked from 1986 to 2000, and then at City, University of London from 2000 to 2010. I founded two scholarly journals and, for 26 years, have served as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Health Psychology

Based on my research publications, I was appointed to a BPS Fellowship in 1984. In the early 1990s, I was elected chair of the BPS Health Psychology Section, which was taken into Special Group status and subsequently to a Division. I was actively involved in the BPS accreditation of the first MSc awards in health psychology and the first Stage 2/doctoral training provision in the UK. I sat on various BPS boards and represented the BPS on international bodies. Over many years multiple elected and unelected BPS officers were well known to me and I counted many as personal friends. 

It with sadness and regret that I believe that I must state my concerns about the Society, its organization, working practices and public outputs. 

I am writing this comment in support of the recent blog postings on ‘BPSWatch’. I do not know and have never met any of the three authors. However I have read their postings and find myself in total agreement with the points they have been making. Rather than resign from the Society, which has crossed my mind on numerous occasions, I had always hoped that change could come from within. Now, seeing the total chaos that reigns, and the complete lack of transparency, accountability and honesty with members, I am strongly doubtful.

I can summarise my current thoughts on the BPS in four sentences: 

1) The BPS is grossly failing the public good, its members, and the discipline of Psychology.
2) The current problems of the BPS cannot and will not be solved by tinkering with the system, as has been tried unsuccessfully on a frequent basis over several decades.
3) Only root-and-branch restructuring would be able to make the necessary changes to achieve the objects of its charter.
4) Sadly, I do not believe the BPS has the wherewithal to achieve the necessary structural reorganization that is called for.

The BPS website (https://www.bps.org.uk/about-us/who-we-are) states:
“The British Psychological Society is a registered charity responsible for the development, promotion and application of psychology for the public good.
Through our Royal Charter we are charged with overseeing psychology and psychologists in the UK, and we are governed by a number of democratically-elected boards and committees.”

My nearly 60-year long association with the BPS indicates to me that the BPS is woefully unfit for purpose. The BPS fails to meet its obligations as a registered charity. This fact is evidenced by the Society’s:

Ineffective governance
Lack of accountability
Lack of transparency
Institutional racism
Improper complaints procedures
Willful neglect of fraud and/or malpractice

In due course, unless I resign first, I will address each point on this and/or my own blog site at: https://davidfmarks.com/

David F Marks
5 May 2021

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

Board of Trustees, Governance

Sins of omission – more rhetoric of justification from the BPS Board of Trustees

From the Editors of BPSWatch…

The crisis of governance in the BPS has been rumbling on for the past year. Slowly journalistic interest appeared, with articles in Third Sector and the Daily Telegraph leaking to the public what the BPS Board or The Psychologist had failed to disclose to the membership. This invites us to reflect on what is not said as well as what is said, when considering organisational rhetoric to justify the status quo (philosophers interested in absence dub this an ‘omissive critique’.).  

For those of us who think a better future must start with an honest reflection on the present, then we cannot rely on the preferred account of reality declared by the BPS Board of Trustees (BoT). They are not the whole problem (that is systemic and cultural as we have noted in several of our postings) but they are the current living proof of that deeper and longer problematic picture.  In that context, we now turn to a brief omissive critique of an important Board statement.

The Board response to the recent article in the Daily Telegraph

On April 26th 2021, Hayley Dixon in the Daily Telegraph provided us with a rough but accurate sketch of the governance crisis and its consequences (see here). Here we provide in full the ‘official’ response offered from ’the BPS’ then next day (see here).

Responding to an article in the Daily Telegraph, Interim Chair of the Board of Trustees, Professor Carol McGuinness said:

For more than a century, the British Psychological Society has promoted the practice of psychology and advanced professional thinking on often complex and contentious issues. With more than 60,000 diverse members, debates on professional issues are often vigorous and there is sometimes heated disagreement between our members.

The past 18 months have been turbulent for the BPS as we go through a process of significant and much needed organisational transformation. During this period several working groups have considered very sensitive topics which have gone through an expert and democratic process.

Our guidelines for psychologists working with gender, sexuality and relationship diversity are not, in our view, at all contentious. They require our members not to discriminate against individuals and to treat them with respect. This includes the use of appropriate, inclusive language, which all patients and clients should be able to expect.

The guidelines relate to adults and young people and not to the treatment of children, and professionals understand the difference. Our guidance does not contain any reference to the prescribing of puberty blockers for children under the age of 16.

There is general debate across the health sector on the extension of limited prescribing rights for different professions, something that has brought benefits to patients through, for example, the work of nurse prescribers. There are strong views among our members about whether some psychologists should be granted prescribing rights, with vigorous positions presented by those both for and against this potential change.

However, our research to date on prescribing rights, following a two-year consultation process – that it could be useful in certain settings – is simply a contribution to the debate.

The debate on prescribing has no connection whatsoever to our guidance on gender, sexuality and relationship diversity. We have always been clear that the issue of prescribing rights will require further debate and indeed the BPS does not currently have a fixed position on this issue. We have repeatedly stated that we will continue to listen to and engage with our members on this important issue.

Ultimately, the BPS does not have the power to decide on this issue, as it is a process governed by Parliament following extensive public consultation. We are disappointed that the Daily Telegraph has chosen to repeat the views of a small minority of BPS members who are unwilling to accept the outcome of our consultations and policy positions.

As a board of trustees we have been open about the need for improvements across the society which is why we committed a significant amount of money to our ongoing three-year transformation programme. The BPS is not perfect, and there is always room for improvement in any organisation.

It is clear to us that stronger governance processes will be required in the future, and this work is well underway. We have kept the Charity Commission fully informed of developments throughout and continue to engage with them.”

An ommisive critique of the statement

The reader can draw their own immediate conclusions about the adequacy of this response. Here we only want to list what was not said in this statement.

1.  Professor McGuinness was voted into the interim Chair role of the BoT in the wake of the resignations of both the President and Vice President (see here and here – you may need to register (free) to access these articles). This reflected a wilful refusal of the Board to comply with Statute 20 of the Society: the chairing role should have been handed over immediately to the Chair Elect. Her authority in the Chair is at best dubious and at worst totally illegitimate. The naïve reader would be unaware of this legitimation challenge for the Board still today. 

2. The allusion to diverse views and heated debate does not mention that debate has been actively blocked, with articles censored (see here), review groups closed down and lobbying about policies ignored.

3.   The statement does not mention the routine use of threats of legal action against Society members and others such as accusing dissatisfied complainants of harassment in pursuit of their case.

4.   Many objections have been raised about the very lack of the democracy and full expertise drawn upon in policy formation in the Society. These have been ignored in relation to the prescribing debacle, the contentious gender document and the peremptory closure of the memory and law group.

5.   Describing the gender document as ‘not at all contentious’ fails to mention those objecting, on legitimate grounds, to it both before and after the legal change on December 1st 2020. However, the prefix ‘in our view’ is relevant because this reveals the self-interest in depicting reality in a particular manner. 

6.  The claim that there is no connection between the prescribing and the gender polices fails to mention the overlap of decision-makers in the two groups and the fact that a consideration of hormone prescription was part of the first of them.

7.   The BoT are ‘disappointed’ in the article from Hayley Dixon, but the statement does not mention that the BPS was unhelpful  and, we believe, invoked legal threats about its publication. We understand that other approaches from Third Sector encountered the same aggressive non-cooperation. Journalists encountering such resistance tend to suspect that a story is worth telling.

8.   The commitment proffered about the change programme in the BPS as an organisational solution assumes that it will work in the absence of honest reflection about the current crisis of both legitimacy and governance: the very point we keep repeating and illustrating on this blog.

9.   The claim that the BoT continues ‘to engage’ with the Charity Commission is the most important rhetorical query for us. To what degree has that engagement been necessary and why? Will they now make all the changes necessary to bring the Society into regulatory compliance? Does the BoT even admit that any changes need to be made? If so will the Trustees need to resign and a fresh start made under completely new governance arrangements?

These questions are all important, the response from Professor McGuinness offers us no clues at all. Surely the membership deserves a full and frank statement about all of these matters, if the alleged principle of openness and transparency is to be put into practice. 

The Editors, BPSWatch.

Board of Trustees, Governance

Is the BPS Board of ‘Trustees’ doomed to fail?

David Pilgrim posts….

Many of the postings (see, for example, here and here) on this blog have addressed the governance failings of the Board of ‘Trustees’. The latter is placed in quotation marks because, as we have argued previously, they do not offer independent scrutiny or oversight. The Senior Management Team (SMT) is salaried, and the other members are drawn from sub-systems of the Society with their particular interests. The very point of Trustees in relation to charities is that they should be impartial and independent. This is a circle that cannot be squared at present in the BPS. 

How has the Society got itself into this fix? It is partly a lack of insight from the current incumbents on the Board. All representations from us about this problem, as with other serious matters, have fallen on deaf ears. But this cultural norm of defensiveness and denial is not the whole explanation. If we go on to the BPS website, and we pull up the relevant documents related to the Royal Charter and Statutes and the Rules of the Society, then the answer is there in plain sight.

The Royal Charter only requires that there should be a Board of Trustees. This is a broad-brush requirement and it prescribes no operationalised detail. When we then go to the Rules, there is precious little on the Board – more is said about the Council of Representatives (now the Senate). However, what is said in the Statutes document does tells us who (by role) will constitute the Board (the Presidential triumvirate, chairs of the BPS sub-systems or other appointed delegates along with the Honorary Treasurer and Honorary General Secretary). Although in practice today the SMT members join the Board meetings, they are not mentioned in either the Statutes or the Rules: see below on this current silence in BPS documentation. Given the power and responsibility of the SMT, an observer may consider this curious, to say the least.

So there we have it. All the members of the Board are either salaried or appointed from the sub-systems of the Society. The Presidential triumvirate is elected by the membership. At the time of writing both the President and Deputy President have recently resigned and for reasons we cannot discover, the President Elect is not being permitted to chair the Board in their absence. This failure to appoint the President Elect as the acting Chair of the Board is explicitly contrary to the Statute 20 of the Society. For now the Board has no elected leadership, which simply aggravates the preexisting sham of its independence.  

Note that financial, career or reputational interests are embedded in all of these roles on the Board.  There are no independent people from outside the Society, especially ones that might have relevant skills in relation to finance or organisational efficiency and probity. This whole scenario is out of sync with both the spirit and detail of charity law. To a new pair of eyes, used to charity functioning, this beggars belief.

Silence about the Senior Management Team

The above describes, in large part, the arrangements that have emerged in the Society since the Royal Charter was granted in 1987. This created the inevitable conditions for conflicts of interest and a conservative culture of self-protection. Reflective critical oversight would destabilise that culture. It has been largely absent, because independence on the Board has also been absent. With the same names being recycled in the sub-systems (including as well the honorary roles of Treasurer and General Secretary), often for years on end, the description of an oligarchy is warranted. However, that problem was then joined by another.

Once the BPS was to be managed, not merely administered, the pre-existing tendency of weak governance was then amplified. I have discussed this point about the implications for organisations of the New Public Management Model in my previous posting and will not repeat the critical points again. What is relevant here is the contrast between the documents concerning the Rules, the Royal Charter and the Statutes of the BPS, and those which are available to us about the SMT. The BPS website lists who the people on the SMT are, as well as their titles. However, I cannot find any document that describes specifically how that salaried team relates functionally to other parts of the Society, or describes its powers in comparison to the sub-systems and the general membership. 

This dual problem of the old oligarchy interacting with the new SMT has implications for democracy. The frustrations we have encountered, when trying to fathom what is going on in the closed world of the Board of ‘Trustees’, are now added to by the lack of transparency available to members about the workings of the SMT and its self-defining power and control over processes in the Society. In a well-run charity, information about these matters should be available to all concerned, in a clear and transparent manner. 

Members and the public should know how the performance of managers would be evaluated and by whom. Board meetings would be about the SMT reporting to and being accountable to Trustees in a spirit of respectful critical scrutiny from the latter. They would not be ‘briefing’ meetings for the former. When the SMT was first set up in the BPS, for a while it did not even send in written reports to the Board; apparently that has now changed. As far as the Board is concerned, we still cannot work out (wagging-wise), which is the tail and which is the dog. 

Were the BPS to have publicly available and credible delegation and oversight frameworks, these would be codified and documented in a similar fashion to those I cite above about the Rules and the Statutes. I may have failed to spot these functional descriptions of the SMT and their accountability on the BPS website. Apologies to all readers if they are there and I have missed them. If this is the case, then maybe someone on the Board of ‘Trustees’ could get in touch with us with the relevant correction. If they are not there, then it is a matter of urgency for them to be produced and disclosed to members of the Society.

Conclusion

The culture of poor governance, which all of the postings on this blog have sought to illuminate, is traceable in part to a structural problem about the Society’s tradition of forming a Board of ‘Trustees’ narrowly from within its own ranks. The formally codified character of the Board of ‘Trustees’, in the documents I cited at the outset, puts this body on tramlines, with conflicts of interest and poor oversight being the inevitable outcome, as we now see. 

This means that when and if the BPS is reformed as a charity, in order to ensure the regulatory compliance currently missing, then this present statute describing the Board, which makes it a hostage to fortune, needs be scrapped. It should be replaced by one that prescribes a properly independent body and then current critics can remove the quotation marks from ‘Trustees’. There are plenty of well-run charities that are role models, and the Charity Commission itself will surely advise on this matter.

The role and powers of the SMT should be spelled out in cogent and trustworthy frameworks of delegation and oversight. The absence of these at present is a serious problem and it simply permits members of the SMT to exercise unchecked power in relation to a range of matters. These include centralized financial control, the interpretation of policy documents, media policy emphases, interference with academic activity and the control of information internally and in relation to those outside of the Board (including members of the Society, the press and the general public). These proposals would not fix all of the problems of organisational dysfunction in the BPS but they would be a very good start.

Governance, Memory and the Law Group

Memory and the Law – a dereliction of duty – Part 3

Peter Harvey writes….

In response to my last email to the BPS (see here), I received the following reply:

Dear Peter,

We worked closely with the Memory Based Evidence Task and Finish Group to resolve the challenges they faced. However the standards of evidence for the report and the need for a convergence of evidence from experimental work and clinical practice, as defined within the Terms of Reference for the group, could not be met. 

One of the areas where there was a lack of consensus was the nature of the output.  Their proposal to produce a series of briefings on the same topic from differing perspectives would not be an appropriate way of providing guidance for legal professions.  This approach lends itself to a series of papers in a special issue of a journal. This is the approach that has been agreed by members of the group as a way forward. As mentioned previously, this allows for a definitive review of the different aspects of evidence-based memory and allows space to outline where there are controversies as well as clear consensus.

The appointment of Professor Martin Conway as Chair of the 2008 Guidelines was in line with society policies at that time. Professor Conway was not a member of the Memory Based Evidence Task and Finish Group.

Any concerns relating to the integrity or ethical conduct of members needs to be specified with evidence so that they can be reviewed under the BPS Member Code of Conduct.

In terms of the lifespan of guidance documents, there is already a formal, structured and timed review process in place. All guidance is reviewed at two years and five years post-publication. To make the distinction clear to members and visitors to the website about what is current and what is historical guidance, we will consider adding an archiving section with a statement on legacy documents on the redeveloped website. This will help make clear that they do not reflect the BPS’s current position. The 2008 Memory and the Law publication is no longer available on the BPS website.

Your point about spending time and energy reinventing the wheel is well made. There is a 2019 research briefing on improving witness testimony produced by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. This document involved the College of Policing, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice along with a host of other experts, including members of the Memory Based Evidence Task and Finish Group. Producing a very similar document would be a duplication of effort when a resource with significant input from psychologists is already available.

Debra Malpass, Director of Knowledge and Insight

I have written the following in reply:

Dear Dr Malpass,

Following on from your email of 26 February 2021, I have prepared a more detailed response as set out below.

1. We worked closely….

Who are ‘we’? This is important for two reasons. Firstly, in this specific instance the decision is a de facto change of BPS policy – from having a set of identified, validated and authoritative guidelines for both the profession and the wider public to having nothing. Surely this decision should have been made by the Trustees after consultation with the wider set of subsystems? You will recall that I raised the issue of who else was consulted in my previous correspondence – I have yet to have an answer. Secondly, a more general issue applies to a number of occasions when there have been statements published in The Psychologist in response to queries headed, for example,  ‘Society reply..…’ – an anonymous, unattributable statement that could have come from anyone, anywhere within the organisation. If we are to have an open, transparent system then there has to be accountability and responsibility or, at the very least, attribution.

2. …the Terms of Reference…could not be met…

What does ‘…consensus…’  mean? If you take it to mean total agreement on all major points then this is unlikely in a contested area. In much of psychology there will be differences of opinion and interpretation. Professional guidance should mean that such differences and controversies are set down fairly and openly.  Much of professional life is about managing conflict and difference and you are telling me, in all seriousness, that this group of highly competent people were not able to reach a position where differences and controversies could not be stated clearly. This really beggars belief. And did no-one suggest that it was possible that the constraints of the Terms of Reference (ToR) might be wrong in some way or other – too restrictive, too demanding of a ‘consensus’ for example? Why did this impasse not result in a constructive review and re-evaluation of the ToR and an engagement with the group as to a constructive way forward?

3.  …a series of papers…

You state

Their proposal to produce a series of briefings on the same topic from differing perspectives would not be an appropriate way of providing guidance for legal professions.

You then note that the agreed way forward was series of papers in a special issue of a journal (the shortcomings of which I have referred to previously). You then go on to say

..this allows for a definitive review of the different aspects of evidence-based memory and allows space to outline where there are controversies as well as clear consensus..

I may be missing something glaringly obvious here but what is actual difference between these two statements? As I noted previously, the status of an ad hoc collection papers in a learned journal has none of the authority of a proper set of guidelines from a professional body – especially if those guidelines are clear about where there is agreement and where there are disputes.

4. …concerns relating to the integrity or ethical conduct of members…

I do not see the relevance of this. I made it absolutely clear in my email that I was not impugning the integrity of Professor Conway  – a position I still hold to. My point, and I reiterate it, was to criticise the BPS for appointing, as Chair of the original group, an individual who was clearly aligned to a pressure group and who, as a consequence of that, could be accused of having a conflict of interest. The issue is the lack of insight and governance on the part of the BPS, not a comment on the ethics or behaviour of Professor Conway.

5. …the lifespan of guidance documents…

I do not have a problem with policy documents having a lifespan – my concern is that this information not easily available.  Do all BPS Documents have a clear statement as to when they will be reviewed? Do all BPS documents have clear statements that they have a limited shelf-life? Does the BPS inform the membership regularly when guidance has expired? At present you seem to expect that psychologists have the ability to remember the dates of issuance of a set of guidelines and five years later think “ Aha – these guidelines are now archived.”. Surely it is possible for the membership to be informed when guidance is no longer applicable – perhaps a brief paragraph in The Psychologist? This is not difficult and is arguably a duty of the BPS to ensure that its membership is keep fully up-to-date on key matters of policy.

6. …Memory and the Law publication is no longer available…

It’s all very well for the BPS to do this but, as I have stated before, this document is still available and is seen to be current. In addition to the examples I noted in previous correspondence you will see that it (and note that is the 2008 version, not the revised 2010 one) is listed by Professor Conway as a recent publication on the City University Centre for Law and Memory website – this suggests that he, too, may be unaware of the archiving policy. And, as you will see below, is still regard as suitable for referencing in the guidance that you recommend (see 7, below).

7. …POST briefing …improving witness testimony…

Are you now suggesting that this is a substitute for BPS guidelines? Is this now BPS Policy? This is a complex document, evidenced from a wide variety of sources both within psychology and the law and, as such, looks to be a useful summary (perhaps I should add that I would claim no specific expertise in this area and I will leave it to others to cast a more critical eye over it). But it raises many issues. Are you going to suggest to the BPS membership that this should be used by members in place of the now non-existent BPS Guidelines? If so, what due diligence has the BPS done on the document? You will note that amongst those interviewed was Professor Martin Conway – was he representing himself, the BPS or the British False Memory Society?  The same could be applied to any of those interviewed or involved in the review process. And, I note this with a certain irony, the 2008 BPS Guidelines are used in this document (Reference 11).

8. Concluding comments 

I would draw your attention to these recent letters to The Psychologist website – one from a member of the disbanded group (https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/comment/361#comment-361) and one from a practitioner (https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/comment/362#comment-362). The first undermines the narrative that all members of the group were happy with the decision to disband. We are being fed an ‘official’ version of events that is at variance with the experience of those who have been actively involved and committed. This is not good enough. The second emphasises the very real gap that now exists in the absence of proper guidelines and the risk to justice that this might entail. Again, this is not good enough.

I restate my position that the BPS is guilty of a shameful dereliction of its duty to its members and to the wider public. Implying that another organisation’s document would serve the same function as one under the Society’s banner smacks more of convenience and cowardice than a commitment to science and practice. The power and authority of guidelines comes from the fact that psychologists as a group have the most integrated, model-based, evidenced-based data on human memory of any. We have a duty and a responsibility to ensure that, whilst these data are incomplete, needing ongoing research and are open to debate (as with any controversial issue) they should be made available to benefit of all.  By not resolving this issue and shutting it down, the BPS is guilty of undermining any authority it may have had and of neglecting to face, with honesty and integrity, its duty to its members and the wider public.

Yours sincerely,
Peter Harvey (Member number 5187)

Governance

How Did We Get Into This Mess?

David Pilgrim posts….

The recent description of the BPS as a ‘stultifying bureaucracy’, characterised by ‘administrative incompetence and deliberate procrastination’, seems to be completely fair comment. The evidence to confirm the conclusion, using a range of case studies, was sent in our dossier to the Charity Commission, which I summarised in the earlier posting The Mess We Are In. 

Do all charities descend into these cultural norms: are they all on the same tramlines of determination? Possibly the tendency is there in for all, but clearly some of them function better than others. Moreover, when the whistle is blown on problems such as those in the dossier, they do not all react in the same way. As in all open human systems, there is variability of outcome and so precise predictions are offered at our peril. So, we might ask, what is peculiar about the BPS? Its concrete singularity as a dysfunctional charity bears examination. 

A personal look back

My own starting point is a memory from long ago when I had just qualified as a clinical psychologist. I was at a conference and was chatting in the bar with Don Bannister about the BPS (a body I had recently joined but knew little about). For those who do not know the name, he was a leader in personal construct psychology, who never shied away from criticising his own discipline. Don was a smart and impish intellectual. 

This was in the late 1970s, and I vaguely saw the Society as probably a stuffy but benign organisation, whereas Don had already seen it for what it was. He was of the view that on paper the BPS was indeed a democratic membership organisation. However, in actual practice, this was not the case. The reason, he argued, was that only a self-selecting group of psychologists could be bothered with its bureaucratic intricacies (for their own personality or careerist reasons). They then got their feet under the table and would not budge for years on end. 

Today that picture still remains obvious and is why I describe the organisation not just as a ‘bureaucracy’ but also an ‘oligarchy’. I would re-frame the combination as this: it is an oligarchy that uses bureaucratic means to protect the status quo and ward off critical scrutiny. In Orwellian fashion it uses the rhetoric of democracy and transparency to do the very opposite of its claims. Our dossier offers extensive evidence for that conclusion. 

Another rhetorical point to note is that ‘recycled’ bureaucratic authority is not declared publicly in a state of shame about personally monopolising a democratic structure. Instead, these oligarchs see themselves clearly as serving the organisation and its membership; a point they make proudly on their CVs and personal websites.  (The bankrolling of some of them came to an end just a few years ago, but the status implications remain the same for those working for expenses only.) Of course, some people genuinely move in and on quickly, in a spirit of true democracy but many do not.

As confirmatory evidence that Don Bannister had got it about right, another but more recent memory comes to mind. In 2015, with John Hall and Graham Turpin I edited a book (sponsored by both the Division of Clinical Psychology and the History & Philosophy Section), Clinical Psychology in Britain: Historical Perspectives. It was launched at the DCP Conference and was discussed enthusiastically. 

Many of the contributors to the book, who were on the brink of launching the break away group the Association of Clinical Psychologists (ACP), came to the launch. However, out of disdain for the legitimacy of the DCP and the BPS they refused to pay the conference fee.  These aging rebels were of the understandable view that they had written their contributions pro bono so why pay? They pitched up anyway and, in a proud act of delinquency, they set up a table and offered their very own prepared laminated badges for those going into the room. The game was up; these were psychologists who themselves had played by the rules of the bureaucratic oligarchy for many years and could not take it anymore.

Cultural history

Here are some ideas about history to account for the above state of affairs. First, from the outset, the emerging autonomy of psychology in Britain tussled with the established disciplines in the academy of philosophy and medicine. Both, in their own way, tried to constrain its development or colonise its agenda. This created a scenario of assertiveness (and some might say arrogance) for the fledgling discipline of psychology in the early 20th century. The knowledge base of the discipline may have been contested but the self-confidence of all concerned, whatever their competing views, soon became evident. 

Second, until the second half of the 20th century academic psychologists in the Society dominated its leadership, placing those going off to professionalise their wares in applied settings in a secondary position. This led to a paradox of the latter legitimising psychology in public life externally but the Society itself being more dominated by academic leaders internally. A complaint then of applied psychologists was that they had less power than academics and their concerns were not taken as seriously. The BPS was established as a learned society primarily, with its unifying characteristic of being an academic discipline. Its professional applications, which eventually were expressed in its Divisional structure seen today, were self-confident but they also, of necessity, played second fiddle politically to the legacy of organisational history.  

The formation of the ACP was one eventual culmination of the contradictions of this legacy. I assume similar imagined futures for applied psychologists in the other Divisions are now abroad.  The tension was manifested by a trend over time for applied psychologists to put themselves forwards more for the role of President, though this did not quieten disaffection in Divisional ranks. Moreover, Presidents, whatever their background in the discipline, have tended to ensure cultural reproduction, rather than challenge fundamental organisational roles and norms. When challenge has occurred, it has been met with systemic resistance and personal animosity to the attempted new broom. The genuinely challenging President is a marked man or woman in the BPS.

A recent example of the continuing dominance of academic psychologists being in tension with the views of applied psychologists was the Memory and Law debacle. Collusion between academics on the Research Board ensured that experimentalists favouring the claims of the False Memory Society had taken precedence over the evidence from applied psychology of widespread child sexual abuse in Society. The rapid closure of the group meant that the latter cautions were not to be fully reviewed, with the public protection implications left free floating. As a relevant aside here, I attended the tense exploratory meeting to relaunch this now aborted group in 2018. I applied to be on the substantive group, in order to ensure a proper discussion of the scale and mental health consequences of child sexual abuse. My application to join the substantive group was rejected, despite the fact that I had just finished the book Child Sexual Abuse: Moral Panic or State of Denial? I was given no explanation by a senior manager, who was not a psychologist. She has now left and. I have been unable to ascertain who advised her to reject me and on what grounds. 

Third, the separation of the applied from academic wings culminated in the Society abandoning a unified investigatory and disciplinary system to ensure public protection. This then left the Society with no clear role, embarrassingly leaving the matter of ethical impropriety to regulatory bodies like the HCPC on the one hand or employers on the other. Justice for complainants remains then a hit and miss affair.  We are in the process of preparing a fuller post about this. If selective management attention is in doubt about this gap in the system, witness how the complaints process is applied assiduously in some cases, while others are just ignored. This is not just inefficiency (though it includes that). It is mainly about interest work that inflects what is investigated properly and what is treated in a tawdry fashion. For example, anyone seriously challenging the status quo about a flawed policy is simply ignored (emails are not answered) or the complaint peters out, with no serious discussion of learning from the process by those running the Society. If a training film was needed on how not to be a ‘learning organisation’, the BPS would be an excellent start. 

Fourth, in the past few years the more general shift in organisations to the New Public Management Model and its increasing reliance on digital governance (‘computer says “no”’) has been obvious in the Society. This brings with it the same problems witnessed first in the NHS and then in higher education, with a new management class emerging to control all others. Once this emerges, considerations about the power, status and salaries of this new management elite predominate in decision-making. A ponderous slow-moving bureaucracy then is ensured. Culturally now there is the added sense of being in a lesser amusing episode of The Thick of It, with the unending obsession of BPS leaders with control over both information and people. In this case, ipso facto, this has been at the expense of openness and transparency and a healthy version of membership democracy. Moreover, unlike in the NHS and higher education, where senior managers have often actually had some proper role in their organisations over many years, in the Third Sector we witness a form of managerialism, which can be readily disconnected from the content of the employing body.

Democracy and managerialism in tension

Why should senior managers in the BPS genuinely care about outcomes preferred by the membership, or ensure lay representation within management structures like the Board of Trustees? Like politicians, their short-term interest is mainly in their own domain of power and influence. Other communities of interest might undermine managerialism and so they are instrumentally ignored, or control sought over them. Unlike its ordinary members, managers have no long-term commitment to the Society. The departed employee who kept me out of the Memory and Law group was symptomatic of this here today, gone tomorrow, managerialist culture. Witness the history of the recently and suddenly departed Finance Director, who moved on to a completely different charity before Christmas. As usual, the membership had to find out about this fact; they were not informed.

The oligarchy I describe here and in previous postings then reflects that convergence of interest between a core group of elected or appointed psychologists hanging around in the Society, for years on end, with these career managers.  Thus the recycled authority of the same names (tipped off to me in the late 1970s by Don Bannister) no longer represents the single elite group in the Society. It is now jostling for position with the new senior managers, leaving ordinary members and the general public demoted in importance or out in the cold. 

For those who are prepared to enter the Machiavellian world of this new political amalgam, and work hard at that insinuation, there are certainly gains to be made. This has been evident in the capture of sub-systems by some activists from within identity politics. Witness their persistent and recurring role over the BPS policies on gender, prescribing rights and the Memorandum of Understanding about conversion therapy. In some cases, this has meant policy indolence in the face of legal circumstances. 

For example, the Judicial Review in December 2020 changed the law on biomedical paediatric gender transition. The BPS should have immediately reviewed its policies of relevance but has refused to do so, despite representations. Its magazine The Psychologist instead of reporting the Judicial Review as a game changing legal event and exploring its ethical implications for research and practice instead issued a single pre-prepared biased account, in defiance of the unanimous judicial ruling. Witness also how managers in the BPS have signally failed to rectify the implications of this policy capture in the public interest, with most members probably being unaware of the chicanery involved. This same point applies to those representing the biased interests of the False Memory Society, noted above, embedded in the Research Board over many years.

What Next?

Where is all this going? One scenario is more of the same. The Board of Trustees might continue with its ‘problem what problem?’ approach. It will just carry on protecting the incumbent interests of the oligarchy, with its wilful blindness to endemic poor governance. (An exception here was the resignation recently of the Deputy President, citing the latter as the main reason.) Another is that more and more members will leave in frustration and this might coalesce into new organisational formations, in addition to the ACP. If this is a large fracture, with applied psychology setting up shop elsewhere, then the BPS may need to re-name itself something like ‘The Society for Psychology Graduates’. A final scenario is that a root and branch reform of the Society will ensue, to at last ensure its proper governance, prompted by a combination of press interest and Charity Commission engagement and investigation.

Watch this space.

Governance

“…Stultifying bureaucracy, administrative incompetence and deliberate procrastination…”

The headline quote about the BPS comes from a senior and experienced clinical psychologist – and it sums up pithily our concerns about the Society and how it fails its members. Although not the author of that statement, Sarajane Aris, who is a former Director of Policy of the DCP, has been a Head of a clinical psychology service in the NHS and is a former Associate of the Care Quality Commission has experienced similar frustrations with the BPS. She has felt it necessary, but with considerable reluctance, to write to the Charity Commission with her concerns, in order to effect some change.  With her permission, we summarise the main points of her letter below. 

1. Lack of timely Professional Guidance for practitioners. 

When the commissioning of NHS clinical psychology services was transferred from Primary Care Trusts to new Commissioning bodies, clinical psychologists needed timely and informed advice as how to approach these unfamiliar organisations and demonstrate the value of clinical psychology. A group of committee members on the Division of Clinical Psychology Leadership and Management (L&M) Faculty prepared this guidance in 2009, in readiness to be used by the new groups. This included important information as to how they could show the effectiveness of the delivery of clinical psychology services and save commissioners money at various points on a variety of care pathways. It was crucial that this guidance was available to service heads and directors in advance of the formal take over of responsibilities by the commissioners in 2010. This took on an additional significance given the loss of senior posts in the profession at that time. This guidance was not published by the BPS until 2015. Thus an important document was not available in time for our profession due to delays created by the numerous BPS committees and other internal processes before sign off. Five senior and experienced psychologists worked hard – and at no cost to the BPS – to produce a document in time to have impact, and yet it took 5 years to go through the BPS before formal publication. Too late to be of any real use. 

2. Mentoring. 

The DCP had set up a mentoring website in 2016 through the L & M Faculty, following on from a successful pilot scheme. Unwillingness on the part of the BPS management and administration to take on the running of the website meant that the scheme faltered. It is now in its third iteration because of failures by the BPS to take on responsibility for it. This has resulted in significant delays and extra work – again given freely by committed volunteer members of the BPS. Contrast this to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, whose scheme has been up and running since 2015. 

3. The Universal Declaration. 

The Universal Declaration of Ethical Principles for Psychologists is one of the seven Declarations of the International Union of Psychological Sciences (of which the BPS is a National Member). It was referred to the L & M Faculty for review in 2015. This group suggested that Principle 2 be amended to include the concept of compassion. A great deal of work and effort by various people went into making the case for such a change which was supported by the then President. Clearly, such a change could only be put forward by the BPS itself. At this stage, it was sent to various committees and sub-committees within the Society and its sub-systems. The result of this toing and froing between the various groups was that the inclusion of compassion wasn’t something the BPS could support and no further action would be taken. Sarajane notes 

I spent considerable time and effort attempting to move this forwards. I tried to pursue it throughout 2016 with emails, only to hear nothing. To be honest, at that point I gave up, as I had turned my attention to another project for the DCP. 

4. DCP Policy Director role. 

In working in this role,

I was often cut across by the BPS Policy Director with no attempt at collaboration, consultation or aligned working. This created unnecessary delays, confusion and lack of clarity leading to ineffective outcomes...

The above catalogue of organisational failure should give us all cause for concern. There are clearly serious issues in the system which result in, not simply failure and frustration on the part of hard-working volunteer members of the BPS, but also in lack of support and guidance for those working in practice. Sarajane puts it well in the penultimate paragraph of her letter to the Charity Commission. She notes that she has given 

..12 years of significant input and services to the DCP/BPS, in order to make a real difference and positive impact for our profession… 

but this has had 

…little positive and impactful outcome. The BPS itself, through their processes and procedures, have prevented significant work from succeeding and impacting. I might go as far as saying hindering impactful change. In my view this has serious implications, and indicates we have a failing professional body… 

which is not acting as 

…an effective professional body and being an authentic and transparent learned Society. 

This is a sorry judgement from a senior and highly committed psychologist who, after exploring all options available to her within the BPS, felt the need to raise her concerns with the Charity Commission. Just what will it take for the BPS to realise that, as an organisation, it is failing both its members and the public?