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Cui bono: on the UK FM associations merger

It may be a sign of either impending maturity or senility that I have taken over a week to respond to the news that BIFM is in merger talks with several other FM associations. In fact, this uncharacteristic sloth has been because I wanted to hear from the BIFM leadership before reaching any view on this issue, which is of course an important step for the membership of the Institute, as well as (possibly) for the UK FM industry as a whole.

Sadly, what I have heard and read has not been encouraging. To be fair, it hasn’t been discouraging either: it has, rather, been vacuous.

Because simply the mechanics of merging two trade associations, a substantial membership institute with pretentions to chartered status, and a training body into a single entity are tortuous enough to give anyone pause for thought. Yet we’re asked by the Chair of BIFM to accept the idea that the talks have been embarked upon with a “clean sheet of paper”, as if no-one has even begun to consider why or how this might happen. That may be the party line which the Board has agreed, but such naivety hardly bodes well: are we to suppose that experienced operators like Richard Sykes of FMA and Chris Cracknell of Asset Skills haven’t considered their objectives before engaging with this?

Indeed, are we seriously being asked to believe that BIFM hasn’t even begun to consider the benefits and risks of this? Have they not even glanced at the alternatives – for example some form of relationship with RICS or IFMA? Sadly they either cannot or will not tell us. But the situation is quite simple: they either haven’t thought this through, in which case we might question why the Board exists; or they have, in which case there is no sound reason why they cannot explain immediately and clearly to the membership what the purpose of this proposed merger is. There is absolutely no need for the BIFM leadership to know what the deal is in full before communicating with its members. Nor do I expect them to give away their negotiating position, if that is what they need to keep in hand (although if that is the case it hardly augurs well for the relationships to follow). But they ought to be able to explain what the hoped for outcomes are, and why those would be beneficial overall – and that is what they should do now.

So I am not opposing the idea of merger: there may be many positive outcomes from it, and I think we can all see some possibilities from a more unified industry body. But at the moment there simply isn’t a basis on which to form a view one way or the other. My experience of seeing mergers and acquisitions in the commercial world, and of seeing building societies and trades unions merge, suggests that there will be significant costs of change, that some people will benefit financially (usually the senior staff of the merging bodies), and that some people (usually the membership) will lose out.

Before the costs of change are imposed on an Institute which had financial problems as recently as 2011, and took until mid-2012 to recover, the least we should expect is a clear statement from the Board about what they seek to gain from this for us, their members.

 

© Dave Wilson, 2013