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The N.C.A. Where Now?

An appraisal of the present state of the N.C.A. together with some thoughts on its future role

by Tim Reynolds.

At the recent N.C.A. Annual Meeting held in Wells the chairman in his address put forward the view that the N.C.A. would soon have to give serious consideration to employing some form of paid staff.  This suggestion has come only a short time after the N.C.A. was set up as a national body for caving in November 1969.  In view of the wide implications of this suggestion and the fact that it comes at a time when the full effects of the existence of the N.C.A. are only just being appreciated by club cavers, it would appear to be a good time to pause for thought before cavers suddenly find themselves with an organisation of a type which they do not want.  During its brief career as a national body the N.C.A. has already moved through two stages of organisation and now appears to be about to move into a third.  These stages are as follows:-

STAGE 1 – as a loose collection of autonomous organisations to (a) speak with one voice on caving matters and (b) act as a body so that a grant could be obtained from the Sports Council.

STAGE 2 – as a body to deal with all of the stage 1 functions and, in addition, to (a) look into problems raised by constituent bodies and (b) deal with day-to-day contact with the Sports Council and other outside organisations.

STAGE 3 – as a body to deal with all the stage 2 functions and in addition to set standards and procedures for caving in its various forms.

The N.C.A. developed rapidly from stage 1 to stage 2 and now the combination of remarks in the Chairman’s address and the formation of the Equipment Special Committee indicate that it could be moving into the stage 3 category.  In view of the considerably increased work load that an organisation of this type would produce the chairman's remarks about fully paid staff make a lot of sense.  But before this step is taken, the caving community as a whole should consider whether they want to take this step.

At this point it is perhaps useful to pause and to consider the financial aspects involved.  In the past this has been difficult because the Sports Council appear to have been uncertain as to amount of grant they could give to the N.G.A.  This now seems to have been resolved, but the problems that have arisen with the grant from the Sports Council must raise questions as to the advisability of the N.C.A. making long term financial plans when the basis of that finance is subject to instant and unpredictable changes.  The present system is that the Sports Council will provide grant aid to the extent of 75% of administrative, access and training expenditure and 50% of equipment expenditure.  This means that each constituent body has to find from its own resources the following expenditure: (1) 25% of the administrative costs of the N.C.A. executive and special committees plus all non grantable costs (e.g. travelling) and (2) 25% of its own grantable costs plus its own non-grantable costs.  The constituent bodies share of the N.C.A.'s costs is financed by the subscriptions paid by those bodies to the N.C.A. which, for 1974/5 are £35 for each regional council.  In simple cash terms this means that in order to benefit in 1974/5 each regional council must incur £46 of grantable expenditure - up to that point its subscription to the N.C.A. will exceed its grant in previous years, the costs of regional councils have been above this level but it could be argued that these costs are (a) the administration necessary to run the regional councils which would not be required if there were no N.C.A. and (b) only incurred because the grant is available to meet 75% of them.  This however is something which can only be assessed by individual councils.  But - it is worth remembering that the employment of any fully paid staff by the N.C.A. would considerably increase the subscriptions paid by the constituent bodies to the N.C.A.

Now to the organisation of the N.C.A.  At present it has the following constituents.  An annual meeting of the constituent bodies; an executive committee and various special committees.  In view of the rapid increase in workload and the structure of the N.C.A. since 1969, a lot of thought needs to be given to the interaction and mode of operation of these constituents to ensure that the N.C.A. can (a) come to a decision whether to move to stage 3 and (b) if it does decide to do so, decide how it is to be done. Attached is an organisation chart which is an attempt to show the present inter-relation between the various constituents.  As can be seen, the source of power lies with the constituent bodies, but the centre of activity and information lies with the executive committee.  It is to the structure and method of operation of this committee that attention should be directed.  Originally the committee was set up to carry out the wishes of the annual meeting and so the members were elected for their ability to get jobs done, not to represent anyone.  However, events proved that this was not practical since outside organisations and events often required the executive committee to act on sometimes quickly and so the executive committee had to act on its own since the process of calling an annual meeting to obtain instructions was too cumbersome.  Once this development had taken place it them became necessary for the executive committee to include some form of regional representation and this was provided at the last N.C.A. annual meeting.  If this trend is taken to its logical conclusion then the executive committee should consist of the following: - (a) The N.C.A. officers - chairman, secretary and treasurer (b) representatives from the four regions and the combined scientific bodies and (c) perhaps, one or two ordinary members to do some of the donkey work.

It also soon became apparent that there are certain items of N.C.A. business which cannot be dealt with practically by the executive committee.  This is because these items generate a considerable amount of specialist business and so to discuss this at executive committee meetings would make those meetings very long.  In addition it would be difficult to have an executive committee which was made up of people with sufficient expertise to discuss all these items.  The practical solution was for the executive committee to delegate discussion of these areas to special committees specifically formed to investigate them and to report back to the executive committee.  This was recognised by the creation of special committees and to date there are three of them dealing with the following areas: - Conservation; Novice Training, and Equipment.  However, any special committee must remember that it is only an adjunct of the executive committee and so must always operate under the supervision of the executive committee by reporting back and obeying the instructions of that body. In this context, the post of Conservation Officer on the executive committee is now somewhat out of place since it is a hangover from the original idea of the executive committee when the N. C.A. was in stage 1.  Convenors of special committees should only attend executive committee meetings in an ex-officio capacity to present the report of their special committee. In this type of organisation the job of the executive committee is (1) to deal with the non-specialist N.C.A. business and (2) to oversee the activities of the special committees.  In carrying out its job its most important function is to ensure that its own activities or the activities of the special committees for which it is responsible do not run counter to the wishes of any of the constituent bodies of the N.C.A.  This can only be effectively achieved if the executive committee has unanimous voting and accepts that it may have to delay decisions because it is necessary to refer some matters back to the constituent bodies. This might appear to be a time consuming and tedious way of doing business, but the actions of any national organisation can have very wide spread effects.  The failure to fully consider these effects and to amend actions so that the wishes of a constituent body are not over-ridden could result in the N.C.A. being torn apart by internal disagreements.

It may seem that organisation charts and talk of power is irrelevant to caving.  But, unless the N.C.A. faces up to these issues and its structure becomes organised to take practical realities into account, there is a danger that the N.C.A. will spend the whole of its life in internal and wasteful strife.  The solution is for the executive committee to appreciate its position and realise that any action that is taken may have effects of a major nature on one or other sections of caving.  Failure to appreciate this and organise the N.C.A. accordingly so that the wishes of the constituent bodies are taken into account would be disastrous.  Finally, members of the executive committee must appreciate that they are responsible to the constituent bodies as a whole, because if this is not appreciated there is a danger that the procedures and decisions of the N.C.A. will become divorced from the reality of everyday caving and so reduce the whole of the N.C.A. to an expensive and time-wasting sham.