Chairman’s Report

In introducing his report Nigel Herriott said that last year had been quite challenging: as forecast at last year’s AGM, due to a number of years of financial losses, action was needed to reduce costs and, as a result, the Board decided to make the post of General Manager redundant. It was not possible to lose such an important and skilled member of staff without a considerable impact on the operation, and it took the remainder of last year for the revised organisation to become fully effective. Although there had been a number of admin. ‘glitches’, the overall changes went well and Nigel paid tribute to the staff and, in particular the Editor, who has been responsible for managing the difficult change proccess.

As detailed in the Annual Report, there had been an accounting error in 2011, which meant the accounts understated the loss for that year by over £8,000. The loss in 2011 was more than double that reported last year, which made the need for action even more urgent than realised at the time.

The error had now been corrected, which meant that the loss had been taken in this year’s accounts – so this year’s loss had been overstated as a result. As the redundancy of the General Manager took place at the end of July, we only saw part of the financial benefit last year; although the operating cost was reduced, the RW did not breakeven last year. But the good news was that the Board had been able to set a breakeven budget for this year. Two directors left last year – Jackie Roberts, after ten years’ service, and Jennie Earis who had made a great contribution during her relatively short tenure, particularly with the development of BellBoard and the Ringing World National Youth Contest.

2012 was quite a big year for the RW in several ways – the Olympics and the Jubilee saw a lot of extra ringing and this was reflected in the magazine. Nigel felt we could be justly proud of the quality of coverage. We produced BellBoard in January last year and this has grown steadily in usage: it now has 2,250 registered users. BellBoard has the potential to reduce the RW’s administrative costs by automating some of the labour- intensive tasks currently involved in setting peals and quarter peals and this is currently work in progress. BellBoard also has the potential to increase revenues and this is also being pursued, though we are committed to keeping the standard functions of BellBoard as a free-to-use facility for the Exercise.

The first Ringing World National Youth Contest to be run as a stand-alone event was held in Birmingham, and this had been a great success with 15 teams of young people entering. The popularity of the hand bell master-classes took everyone by surprise – the experts were kept very busy all day. The 2013 contest is being held in York on 6th July, with 16 teams participating. The RW is grateful to local organiser David Hull and his team in York for arranging this year’s contest along with Colin Parker, who took over the RW side of things in relation to the contest. Plans are already afoot for the 2014 contest and details of that will be announced in York.

These are all exciting developments, but the core business of selling the newspaper continues to decline and this is difficult to change. The continuing gentle fall in subscriptions is partly due to the ageing of the Exercise as well as the general decline in the print media. Feedback from the “Ambassadors” programme showed that it is not easy to sell the RW to new subscribers – so the programme has not been pushed any further.

The continuing large increases in postal costs have meant the subscription prices have had to be increased too, and overseas postage costs have increased dramatically. Even though overseas subscription rates have been increased substantially, they still do not cover the full cost of supplying these copies and further increases for overseas postal subscribers seem inevitable.

On-line only subscriptions have increased however, with 171 at the end of the first quarter, compared to 106 at the end of last year. The Board feels the time is now right to investigate improving the on-line offering and will be seeking external expertise to help with this; in the first instance a volunteer with appropriate skills.

There is scope for reducing costs further and possibilities for developing on-line income. As long as the Board can cover the costs of producing the magazine it sees no reason to change the current weekly print publication, but at the same time it intends to develop BellBoard and other electronic offerings in order to widen the RW’s appeal to younger ringers.

At the last meeting, at the request of the late Roger Bailey, the Board undertook to review the use of its intellectual property by other parties, including Pealbase. The Board had discussed this matter and unanimously agreed that it could see no good outcome from pursuing the matter and agreed that it would not do so.

Finance Director’s report

Finance Director Richard Wallis apologised for a typographical error in this year’s accounts and the larger error in last year’s accounts first alluded to by the Chairman.

With the latter, last year’s loss had been understated because too much income had been taken from subscriptions into the accounts. At the year end 52% of subscriptions count towards the following year and this was miscalculated in the second quarter of 2011. This wasn’t spotted at the year end last year and it wasn’t until this year’s figures were being prepared that the discrepancy was discovered and fully investigated. The loss reported last year should have been £16,379 and the loss this year only £6,264. But it is the trend shown that is really important to show that the cost savings being introduced were having some effect.

Richard then looked briefly back at how the financial position had changed in the last few years:

Since 2004 subscription income had stayed relatively stable, merchandise has gone down a bit – in particular the diary, which was possibly suffering through increased use of electronic diaries/organisers.

On the expenditure front the RW was paying nearly £85,000 p.a. for printing back in 2004, whereas it now paid around £52,000 – i.e. £1,000 a week. But it is the postage element that is really beyond our control and has increased by over 50% during the past nine years.

The good news was that it had been possible to set a balanced budget for this year and it was very much on track so far.

Question and answers

Philip Green (Lincoln Guild), who is also involved with a printing company in Peterborough, wondered why the RW was unable to take advantage of lower postal rates by sending out the magazine folded into an A5 envelope. The Chairman responded that the option of A5 had been investigated recently, but found unworkable as format for the paper. Nevertheless he agreed to look into the folding option again.

Anthony Lovell-Wood (Salisbury D.G.) asked if the Board had considered moving to a fortnightly publication and taking advantage of cost savings that this might offer. The Chairman replied that the Board had not looked at this, but felt this was not as straightforward a solution as it might first appear. Reduction in volume tends to produce a higher unit cost and fixed costs also had to be factored in. The Board intended to continue to produce the magazine in the way that it has while it remains financially viable to do so, while at the same time preparing other ways of delivering information via BellBoard and on-line versions, et c. so that if the time does come in the future when paper is no longer viable that it is in a position to switch over to other media.

New Directors

Nigel Herriott and Bill Hibbert retired by rotation, but stood again and were re-appointed to the Board.

Three new directors were elected:
Nigel Orchard (proposed by Mark Bell), Colin Parker (proposed by Michael Williams) and Claire Roulstone (proposed by Philip Barnes).

R. A. L.

BB BellBoard
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers