Save the Melksham Train
FSB - North and West Wilts Commitee - Federation of Small Businesses

I have been a reasonably active member of the local section of the Federation of Small Businesses - a good opportunity for local networking - and have been on their Branch Commitee for the last year. However, the organisation has been severely dragged away from where I think it should be at the local level in the last few months - and that's not a local but a national move. Our branch chairman has been dragged through the mud, and words like "Kangeroo Court" have been bandied about but cannot be used officially as everything is happening behind closed doors. Rather odd - you would have thought that the FSB board (or whatever it is) would want vindication in th eeyes of its member if it was acting in their interest. As it is, their secrecy makes them look like an old boy's club - a clique - who really aren't keen on new ideas. Anyway - I won't be standing for the commitee again for next year - I don't have the time to waste.

Reproduced below is my letter informing our branch chairman of my decision and reasons. All pretty personal and boring from my side, really, but the letter is out there in the public domain if you would like to read it. And there is a more formal item here too.

Dear Marion,

I am writing to confirm my decision not to re-offer myself for election to the North and West Wiltshire Branch Committee of the Federation of Small Businesses at the upcoming Annual General Meeting, and to offer you some explanation of the background. In the spirit of openness, please feel free to copy this letter to other parties as you feel fit.

The FSB is marketed as a member-led organisation, looking to provide benefits such as centralised services and local and regional networking opportunities to those members, with these local and regional activities tailored by regional and branch committees to suit the needs of their own locales. That used to work well - looking back earlier in the year, I note a networking event held in West Wiltshire, a multicultural event in Swindon, and an Olympic Event also in Swindon which were all of benefit to many members, including my own small business. All three that I mention were organised by the local branch or region, and I was happy to provide a small element of help with each.

In the last three or four months, things have changed. The FSB's higher echelons have disregarded the member's wishes and those of the committees they have elected by suspending, mid year, officers from various roles - right up to suspending the whole of the regional committee. The operation of the region is now in the hands of an executive with a Blackpool (HQ) phone number, and a paid employee who appears to be working outside of local direction (and complaining that there is only one of her with limited time). And the events - the lifeblood of the local organisation - are being cancelled left, right and centre as the HQ person and the Regional Officer struggle to cope and leave the ship with the rudder tied up with a rope.

Members have not been informed, to my knowedge, of exactly what is going on and why. I find this amazing for a "Member Led Organisation". Only yesterday, I received a reply to a request I had made for some information regarding a membership survey that appeared out of the blue, instructing me that the reply was for my eyes only - private and confidential - and it could be illegal for me to pass a copy on to anyone. The FSB - at least in this part of the country - is no longer a member-led organisation; it appears to be lead by a Junta, with decisions taken by their civil servants and shrouded in secrecy which is hiding goodness knows what. A comment that suspensions were "until the enquiry had been completed" seem to have been hollow promises too. As I understand it, enquiries completed last month some time, with a concluding vote taken on 1st September, some 10 days ago. But normal service has not been restored.

Even before the problems described in this letter, the FSB's organisation was anachronistic. It saddened me to see active business owners scrambling around to fill in paperwork in quadruplicate, and to deal with an overbearing central control, where trivial tasks had to be sent to Blackpool at great expense to members. And little use is made of modern technology; a survey sent out just last week was still "paper only" and we were invited to post or fax it back. That's pretty impractical for the modern small business man, out (as I was last week) meeting customers in the Netherlands and working from a mobile phone and laptop computer.

I'm busy, and I don't have the time to fight the system, the secrecy and untruths that I describe above. I have a huge admiration for what you do (when you're allowed and informed), Marion, but I can no longer serve on local committees as they now operate. Truth be known, I would find it hard to sign the full confidentially agreement as I would be sorely tempted to take on the role of a whistleblower, and as such I fear I would be more of a liability than an assistance to the branch and region.

But it has been a very educational year ;-)


Graham Ellis
Well House Consultants, 404 The Spa, Melksham, Wilts
0800 043 8225 (freephone) or +44 (0) 1225 708225 (phone)
+44 (0) 1225 707126 (fax)

Written 2007-09-14 07:06:52

Available entries ...

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