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Notes on the Structure of the N.C.A. and Regional Councils

About 12 years ago, when the controversy over the formation of a National Council began, I published a not very well constructed article in the BB arguing the case in favour of such a body emphasising that it should not be a politically based organisation. What I had in mind was that we had no National Organisation which could speak authoritively on behalf of the caving world in answer to the (then) bad public image that the recreation had acquired due to bad reportage in Broadcasting media and National Press and a well founded National Council could do this in addition to developing interest in various activities and aspect of Speleology by creating (e.g.) a national Library, Conference Centre and ‘Clearing House’ for all forms of information. This was a bit of a long term dream though and to be accurate, there was already in form a National coverage in the Cave Research Group of Great Britain but they were in no way interested in a National Council and even as late as 1970 (When I was a committee member) they still didn’t want to know.

In the interim years however, after long arguments the N.C.A. did come into being (as an all embracing body with a vaguely regional basis) though having no clearly defined path to follow it has, for the last 6-7 years wallowed around wasting effort and clutching at straws in an attempt to demonstrate that it is active on behalf of a cavers.  To this day, cavers remain suspicious of the NCA and fear that it might upset the ‘status quo’.  It has fallen into the trap of forming ‘Special Committees’ which have evolved to the form of Standing Committees, free to take on any business they feel inclined to follow and a as a result have become ineffective, inefficient and intolerably slow, they are viewed by the average caver with disdain and as mini empires, and do nothing but produce unnecessary paperwork.

In addition, the N.C.A. has created some problems for life itself by using poor or misguided information sources (The Sports Council Grant Aid and Whernside Manor to name two) causing misunderstanding in the Caving community.  This, in turn, caused strains on the organisation and whenever any form of criticism was voiced (e.g. Reynolds & Collins) there was a consequent over reaction and stupid actions taken (i.e. backbiting and an absence of published reports etc.)  So the stage exist today where (as far as I can see) the four caving regions are broadly divided into two camps comprised of (CNCC/CSCC) and (DGA/CCC) and the division of opinion is largely due to the influence of individuals who are so totally opposed that it will be difficult to form any evenly representative group of cavers around the Council table at NCA meetings.  The extremes of view range from the individual who believes that the NCA should be the hub of caving activities to the one who believes that the NCA should merely be a watchdog without any teeth.

So, what can be done? In my view the following could be some of the actions taken to resolve the situation: -

a.                  The N.C.A. should be constructed so as to have a Chairman, an Hon. Sec. and Hon. Treas. as elected officers and the Council should additionally be constituted of an elected delegate from each of the four regions (substitutes should also be elected by the regions to meet the case where a delegate cannot attend.)

b.                  Scientific bodies and other specialised constituent members should be unrepresented on the council as all members already belong to the various Caving Clubs who, in turn, are represented at regional level.  These bodies should be operated as advisory and should provide a representation whenever specialised information is required.  This would eliminate the personal professional interest which could slant an investigation to a particular end.

c.                  Special Committees should only be formed when a body dealing with a particular problem does not already exist.  For example, development of 'special equipment' should not be passed to the Equipment Special Committees (as it is at present) but should be passed to the BCRA who are the  'research' organisation and would thus eliminate duplicate organisations and would obviate additional costs.  Should however, a need arise for a special committee then the NCA Executive should appoint/convene one for that part¬icular purpose only and with Terms of Reference which would ensure that the appropriate report back is made.  In general though, the NCA should only make the necessary introductions so that Regional Officials could obtain information and initiate the necessary action.  The NCA should only involve itself in Regional problems when all other efforts have failed to produce the required results.

The current work of the NCA is largely preventative and as an informant to outside bodies and for the 7 or 8 years of its existence has done little else which it can claim as a success.  It has had little influence in the case of White Scar, OFD and is absolutely helpless 30 far as ODB is concerned and the NWCC’s fight with Tarmac.  The successes attributed to the NCA to date have rather been due to the actions of individuals acting in the interests of NCA.

Keeping its workload to a minimum and the contentious 'philosophical' arguments out of the Council/Executive's work area will result in more harmonious relationship with its constituents.  The NCA must, to keep its faith with the 'grass roots', display some interest in the activities of the caving world by acting as a centre for information and by the publication of a Newsletter (the cheapest approach for this would be similar to that used by Church Magazines where National News is pre-printed and inserted into local publications) but giving the responsibility for circulation to the Regional Council.  In the CSCC region a Newsletter has just started being produced and this is circulated to all member clubs and is also on sale at various outlet points to non-member clubs and cavers.  Cavers require rapid and accurate information and if an NCA Newsletter could be seen as being produced together with a local regional publication then this would create a feeling of being part of the one organisation yet maintaining a regional independence.

Regional Councils: To maintain democratic representation on the NCA, the structure of the Regional Councils should be amended to ensure that a policy of one club - one region prevails.  At present, a club may join all the four regions then the regional structure would collapse and be left in the hands of the politicians.  This could easily happen under such circumstances as we have at present where cavers are from being interested in the NCA politics. Membership of a Regional Council should be automatic to a club and it should not have the problem of needing to be proposed and seconded (as though it were a privilege to belong) thus the regional structure would have all clubs within the same framework - the established clubs being able to guide the newer members along the right rails.  This would mean that clubs will be members of a Regional Council of their choice, or, automatically join the Council which is most effective in their home area - this of course suggests that Regional Councils will not be based in the principal caving regions but the country will be split geographically.  Membership should not be compulsory.

In summary, I recommended that the NCA be re-structured around the active caver and should make an attempt to provide him/her with any information he requires.  At the same time, the NCA should attempt to act a as advisor to any outside organisation to ensure that any information it requires (or uses) is correct and accurate.  It would further be advantageous if the NCA encouraged (or if possible; enforced) the specialist –bodies to discharge their responsibilities by passing the appropriate work to them for action.  The status of the Regional Councils should be strengthened by prevention of joint memberships by the caving clubs without at the same time, overriding (the right to veto or some similar mechanism) the freedom of the individual clubs.


Friday Niters

The Inter-Club Friday Night meet programme is scheduled below.  The meet is at the cave entrance at 7.30 pm.  For South Wales trips, names should be forwarded to Richard Kenny (B. Prewer at wells 73757 can pass name on).

March 4th          St. Cuthbert’s (limited number)

March 19th        South Wales

April 1st  Cuckoo Cleeves

April 15th          Swildons

April 29th          Longwood

May 13th Sludge/Nine Barrows

Mat 27th Shatter/Withyhill (limited numbers)

June 10th          Stoke Lane

June 24th          Burrington evening.  Meet at Goatchurch

July 9th   South Wales

July 22nd          Fox Stone Mines