“To remain in the RA or not to remain in the RA”

Reading RA Chair, Mike Baker together with Derek Reigate and Tony Smith attended the Cressex Community Centre in Wycombe in January to listen and report back on the debate as to whether or not Reading RA should remain as members of the National RA.

Most, if not all, of the local societies were represented although interestingly no women members. There were a few younger members although most were in the mature bracket. The National RA was represented by Ian Davis and Vince Penfold. In addition, Luke Scott, Northampton RDO, attended to present the Northampton RA experience which had already broken away.

Setting the Scene
The meeting commenced with RA representatives from Wycombe outlining the difficulties they had encountered. These were exactly the same us in terms of challenges around communications, membership 40% down, hard to attract new members, problems in attracting guest speakers and issues around development, because of the high turnover of RDOs.

When considering whether to remain with the National RA they took note of the insurance offer, but questioned whether it was the best available. They noted the RA Conference and other meetings which offered benefits to members. They also highlighted the Quest awards and the RA shop, but on this latter point they questioned whether it added any benefit to local societies.

At County RA level they acknowledged the ability to liaise with the County FA and direct with the CEO. This in turn offered contact to the National RA and thereafter the FA and the scope to share best practice with other societies. In addition, support was available on legal cases. If they left the National RA presumably this would mean they would not have contact via the County RA and queried what impact that would have on them locally?

The timetable they were working to was to present options to their members at the May AGM whilst recognising that RA membership was still in place up until September 2015.

To date they had held meetings with the County RA, initial discussions with Lisa Benn, attended an RA County liaison event in Redditch and obtained information from other sources. They emphasised that as yet no decision had been taken and this event was an opportunity to discuss the pros and cons to help inform the debate.

In summary, this was an opportunity to hear what others have to offer, to begin the process of a deep dive in to the insurance options, to fully understand the options to put to members with a view to making a decision at their May AGM.

Ian and Vince National RA
Ian has been three years on the Board whilst Vince was co-opted last year. Ian fully supported this move in the knowledge that the RA at National level needed new blood. Vince’s role was arranging national tutorship.

Ian felt that the difficulties the RA was facing stemmed from the FA’s decision to take over responsibility for referee training. Subsequently the FA have pulled/reduced funding available. Few, if any, youngsters were being picked up as new members and, in any event, they were not attracted to what he described as an ageing organisation. Ian reported that 75% of referees were aged 25 or under.

Vince outlined his background with Woking RA and acknowledged that they had gone through exactly the same discussions. They too were disillusioned with the National RA. However, having considered all the arguments his conclusion was that rather than pull away he should set out to get involved and try and do something about it. This made him focus on why the National RA was failing and how to move forward. He felt that rather than consider insurance cover as the driver we should instead consider the bigger challenge of referee development.

He understood why the FA had taken over responsibility for courses they covered, namely, consistent messages and quality. They also had the links to development and academy groups. However, 95% of referees were in the level 7 to 5 category and he felt these were falling through the gaps. As a consequence, he had obtained support from the FA to put together a team of FA qualified tutors to deliver a national curriculum around the country for this group of referees. The team would consist of a team of about 20 and in a later Q&A he confirmed that £20k National RA funding would come from the sale of the former HQ building; the argument being that if we are going to fail as an organisation let’s at least use our funds and make a fight of it.

He also outlined plans to develop a members’ portal on the National RA website to help referee development covering such issues as movement, fitness and nutrition. His expectation was that these initiatives would be launched at Conference in 2016.

Vince also mentioned the deal that had been struck with PGMO about the provision of guest speakers. He said these would not necessarily be elite officials, however, the expectation was that if an RA made a request via their County RA they would be provided with one speaker a season.

He also felt that more could be done on member benefits, but rather than focus on offers such as so much off a new tyre, for example, the aim should be to look at getting reduced gym membership or discounted kit. The latter he said was currently in hand.

In summarising he said the focus should be on referee development and support and in the later Q&A session he asked to be judged on what the landscape looked like in 12 months time.

Luke Scott – RDO Northampton
First impression was that he is a good RDO. Luke was not speaking in support of the Northampton RA’s decision to break away, but he said he was happy to relay their journey. He explained that just under a year ago they went through the same soul searching. However, they did not involve their members until the AGM. He admitted that in his view the Wycombe approach was much better in helping inform opinions.

He said their main consideration was value for money with a particular focus on the insurance offering. They noted that £14 of their membership fees went direct to the National RA and this led to them asking questions about what do we get for our money? He admitted that money was the main motivator.

Having taken the decision to break away they set their membership fee at £14 which enabled them to provide better insurance cover whilst funding all the activities they wanted to put in place in support of their members. This was especially important in light of the FA reducing their funding to the County. The sort of things they have funded is their own mentoring scheme.

He said that at that time it seemed to make sense to come out of the National RA and strike up an alliance with the County FA. For him in his role, this partnership approach, was a no brainer especially as FA funding was being reduced. He admitted that he was happy to utilise the resource available to him.

He said that membership was growing although when later pressed on this point he could not provide actual figures to support this statement or why members had joined or rejoined.

He explained that Northampton RA had no problem in getting guest speakers although he acknowledged that two of their members were FIFA Assistants.

In response to further Q&A he also said that the legal cover they had obtained was as good if not better than the National RA.

Further Q&A
The meeting was opened up for a general Q&A and other than the points already recorded I did not note all the questions raised. However, I should report that the National RA was given a particularly hard time. This included complaining about the reporting of finances, national conference and other things. However, younger members within the audience applauded the conference which was also supported by yours truly, because of feedback from our own members.

A question was also asked as to why it has taken the National RA 15 years to determine a national strategy and what plans are there to attract new members. Vince covered this off by explaining that he saw no merit in raking over the past, but instead now was the time to look to the future. He reiterated his plans and in answer to further questions this was when he set out the timeline of 12 months.

He also confirmed that when running the development events his expectation was to open these up to non members using local RA facilities/meeting rooms. The attraction being a win/win scenario with development taking priority and local RAs being able to tap up non members; not dissimilar to the recent CRB checks at our last meeting.

I have always been a believer that there is strength in numbers and unity. Going it alone may ultimately be the direction we are driven to, however, at this point in time I think we should watch this space and give the National RA the opportunity to address the current failings.

I should add that there are other members co-opted on to the Board so Vince is not alone and we should encourage members to provide the National RA with ideas and support in terms of specific skills and knowledge if it would be beneficial in making the National RA more effective.

Finally, when the meeting closed I spoke to Vince about being a guest speaker next season. He said he was happy to do that and I can confirm that he has agreed to visit us on 15th September 2016.

I hope this note assists in informing opinion and happy to discuss further at the next open meeting.

Mike Baker
Chair Reading RA

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