No need for the Society to surrender our assets

Mark Walker’s letter (PJ,3 March, p246) proves that at least someone has thought through the practicalities of the Government’s rupturing of our Royal Pharmaceutical Society. Unfortunately he did not go far enough.

Clare Bellingham’s review of the transfer of regulatory function of the Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand (PJ,16 October 2004,p555) to a quasigovernmental body indicated that the PSNZ was required to finance the change over and the establishment of the new regulatory body from its own funds. Now that it seems inevitable that the British Society will be split I would hope that our Council has had the wit to ensure that no other body, particularly any body set up by this Government, has any claim
on the funds and assets which pharmacists, and only pharmacists, have accumulated over the years.

The book values of our assets are presented annually, The Society bought the freehold of the site at 1 Lambeth High Street over 30 years ago and commissioned the design, construction, furnishing and equipping of the building, all for some £6m. The current book value is, I am told, £2.8m — an admirable exercise in depreciation. We also own half of the freehold of Bell House and the leasehold of a flat for the use of the President. In the real world of property in London it is difficult to price our holdings but they are possibly worth around £40–50m. In addition, we hold reserves of about £10m plus other assets and the goodwill of our publications and the PJ. In the event of a split it is obvious that we would no longer have the need for much of the accommodation at Lambeth. We should capitalise on our assets by selling the properties and relocating elsewhere, not necessarily in central London. Our new Charter, in line with those which preceded it, has provision for the disbursement of the Society’s assets in the event that it is “wound up”. Being forced to surrender some of its long established functions by this Government is clearly not the same as the Society closing for business and being wound up, hence there is no reason to surrender any of our assets to any other body.

The Council and managers also have a duty to minimise our liabilities. Society membership will be much reduced and, with it, fee income. Registration will vanish along with almost all of the educational requirements. I would expect that there will be few redundancies, with most staff in those areas being absorbed by the new employer. If there are redundancy costs surely they must fall on the organisation which causes the problem, not on us. Similarly with our current pension provision: these are reasonable but not completely funded and should be transferable to a new employer or perhaps be frozen at the time of schism. Any topping up required should be minimal but it must be no more than our contribution level, not that of an open-ended, unfunded Civil Service structure. The Council, Officers and managers have recently been spending serious monies on refurbishment of our headquarters. Given that no two property owners have identical views on internal furnishings, I would strongly suggest that no further expenditure on the building be undertaken, even to the extent of incurring some contractual penalties. We will continue to need accommodation and expertise for our administration, library, museum and publications and we might even aspire to having a chief scientist’s department again, but not at SE1 7JN.

Mr Walker also touched on the appointment of the new Secretary. I would suggest we have no option but to appoint a Secretary and Registrar with a strong personality who is totally committed to the interests of pharmacists and who will be given a highly remunerated, targeted and short-term contract of around three years. Any future chief executive officer must not expect a similar salary for managing a much smaller and less complex professional body. Are there existing organisational models that can guide our future structure? As well as the existing royal colleges there are other nonstatutory, voluntary professional bodies, incorporated under royal charter, such as the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Royal Society and the British Psychological Society. The sooner we review their function, structures and organisation the better fitted we will be for our changing professional and representative role.

Ian Caldwell, Former President and Honorary Auditor, Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, March 2007;()::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2023.1.171169

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