What, you may ask, has been going on with CIPS and the debate about the proposed changes to governance of the esteemed Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply? (Start here if you are new to this topic).

You may remember I raised concerns about the way members were losing their right to vote (directly and / or indirectly) for members of the Global Board of Trustees (GBT), who ultimately bear responsibility for the Institute. That followed the abolition of Congress and its replacement by a Membership Committee – a step that, whatever you think of its merits, was not particularly well handled or communicated. Under the proposed model, Trustees would be appointed following an application and interview process, run by the Nominations Committee (NC).

As well as the issue of member democracy, many of us were also concerned about the power these changes vested in the NC, which did not appear to have the independence required if it was to play such a key role.  (I didn’t agree with the abolition of the President role either, but I didn’t feel so strongly about that).

I ran a quick survey that showed many other members shared my concerns, but then I had positive discussions with CIPS leadership on these topics in December. Critically, we agreed there would be a genuine and open consultation with members on the voting issue. That led to the Chair, Paul Thorogood, sending me an email in mid-December, laying out what he and the team had agreed would be the next steps. He agreed on a consultation in late January, which would address a number of issues, including, “The mix of trustees – appointed vs elected – on GBT and the process for appointing/electing members”. He also said that “Options will be proposed for each, together with pros and cons.  Members will be asked to select their preferred option in each case”.

I was happy with that, and backed off from my campaign whilst the consultation was being prepared; hence my silence on the issue recently.

I was therefore surprised – and annoyed – when I saw the communication from the CIPS CEO (Malcolm Harrison) to members last week and the new message on the website. That extolled the benefits and virtues of the process for appointing Trustees based on an application and interview process. It did reflect our discussions about the NC at least – but made no mention of member voting being retained.

Hang on, I said to Paul and Malcolm, that’s not what we agreed you would do.   Sorry, they said, the consultation is coming soon, this was just a communication about what is already happening now that Congress has been abolished – so new appointments to the GBT in recent months have gone through the interview process.  And we didn’t mean to go back on our agreement, they said, we didn’t think this communication was anything to do with the forthcoming  consultation.

The problem, as I pointed out, is that members would read the new note and feel the interview route and resulting dis-enfranchisement of members was a fait accompli. You’ve said all these positive things about the interview option – that is not exactly the level playing field we had agreed for the consultation.   

So in this week’s communication – mainly about ambassadorial roles – it was good to see some acknowledgment of that, as Malcolm says this about the Trustee issue.  

“In my message to you last week, I covered the proposals to open up the recruitment process for the trustees on our Global Board of Trustees which we had already communicated last year…. We wish to consult with members on several options, not just the proposal which we communicated last year. These options will be laid out in the consultation document which will be issued by the end of January”.

Confused? So just for the avoidance of doubt, the consultation, when it comes, is still important. If you feel strongly about preserving democracy in some form as a CIPS member, please make your voice heard. Personally, I would go for a mix of directly elected and appointed members for the GBT – but I accept that members may choose to support the 100% appointed route. No other major Institute has done this, as far as I can see, but CIPS could be a pioneer.  My main interest through this whole process has been to give the full membership a proper voice in the discussion, rather than just see a small group driving vital decisions.

The changes already made and proposed to the democratic process, to Congress, the Presidency and the GBT are really fundamental and change the whole nature of CIPS as it is currently described in our Charter. So it’s vital that CIPS does take governance – and the views of its members – seriously.

You may have seen the email from Malcom Harrison, CEO, and the information on the CIPS (Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply) website concerning some of the governance changes being enacted and proposed by the Institute.

It is good to see CIPS communicating like this and the note does answer many of the questions about the replacement of Congress by the Membership Committee. It was good to understand more too about the Volunteer Engagement Group – and to see some contrition for the variable  communication of the changes over recent months.

The “Q & A” section in that communication also briefly addressed the President issue, although again it talks about other ambassadorial roles, which we have seen little evidence of in recent times.

The big gap was the lack of mention of the Global Board of Trustees (GBT) and Nominations Committee, and how abolishing Congress also means that CIPS members at the moment have no vote and no influence on those two central governance groups. That also brings about the issue of the “circularity” I highlighted previously, with those two committees nominating each other, which I still think is unwise and unsatisfactory.

However, I do understand GBT is actually discussing (as we speak, as it were) whether there might be some alternative approach here that would preserve democracy. So I’m going to hold off the trouble-making for a few days and see if white smoke and some alternative proposals emerge from the Easton chimney. If not, I’ll be back on the campaigning trail shorty, with the aim of preserving some sort of democracy for CIPS and its members.

In the meantime, do make your views known to CIPS directly, using the address they have set up for that purpose – haveyoursay@cips.org. I have passed on the comments I received when I ran our quick survey last week, but if you feel strongly about this, then obviously it would help for you to express your views directly – whether about Congress, the potential disenfranchisement, the Presidency or whatever!

I would stress though that I don’t believe the changes are down to CIPS management, which some of you have suspected. It is the Board of Trustees who are making these decisions; the senior team at Easton may not disagree with them, but we should be clear that these issues fall firmly into the Board’s area of responsibility.

The arrest of Steve Bannon, President’s Trump ex-adviser, hit the headlines this week. Along with several other men, he is accused of siphoning off funds that were given to a charity which sought private donations to support the building of the Trump-promoted wall (fence, barrier, whatever) between Mexico and the USA.

Without getting into the mentality of the donors who would give their hard-earned cash for that cause, the case does point out the difficulties of knowing exactly where you money is going when you had it over to any charity.  There have been many examples over the years of charities that do genuinely support good causes, but appear to be just as interested in spending money on fancy offices and big salaries for executives.

Even an organisation as reputable as the Australian Red Cross ran into controversy recently when it had to defend its decision to spend up to 10% of bushfire relief donations on administration costs. That doesn’t seem too unreasonable to me, but in the past, it had promised to put 100% of all money raised directly to a cause.

Then there are the actual fraudulent “charities” that act as a front for criminal activities. For instance, four men were found guilty recently of fraud in the UK when they expropriated over £500K of donated money rather than using it for genuine purposes.  Collectors in camouflage trousers and “Save Our Soldiers” shirts rattled collection tins and conned people at railway stations into thinking they were giving to support disabled troops. But the  money went to fund the lifestyles of David Papagavriel, Terence Kelly,  Ian Ellis and Peter Ellis. That’s the reason I never put money in collecting tins if I don’t know the charity, by the way, even if it looks like a great cause.

The third type of charity-related fraud comes when a charity itself is the victim. Every organisation that sees large amounts of money flowing through it can be a target for what I define as “procurement related fraud”, and charities are no exception. There are some interesting examples of this in my new book, Bad Buying – How organisations waste billions through failures, frauds and f*ck-ups (to be published by Penguin Business on October 8th).

The fraud may originate from outside the organisation, but often there are insiders involved, or in some cases it can be a purely internal affair. For example, one story in my book covers the exploits of the CEO of an education charity, Philip Bujak. He was sentenced to six years in jail in 2018 at Southwark Crown Court in London for swindling some £180,000 out of his organisation. Using a company credit card, false invoices to Fake “suppliers” and other routes he got the charity to fund his honeymoon, and family events at hotels. One bill for a “charity conference” was really his mother’s 80th birthday party, and he was also keen on buying and restoring paintings.

So don’t think that everyone who works within a charity is automatically a good person. There can be the odd bad apple, which means that charities (like every other organisation) need to take strong anti-fraud measures to protect against internal or external villains. I haven’t got the space here to go through all those suggested steps, but my book goes into that in more detail, with seven key principles to avoid buying-related fraud and corruption listed and explained.  And we will come back to those here at a later date as well.

Meanwhile we will watch the Bannon case with interest …