Opinion

A year to transform the BII

By Rob Willock , 25-Apr-2012
Last updated on 01-May-2012 at 17:35 GMT

Related topics: Rob Willock, Business Support

This industry needs a strong professional body now more than ever. As the tax burden increases inexorably, on-trade beer sales fall steeply, and pubs close in their hundreds with the passing of each financial year, licensees seek strength and leadership from those that represent them.

Willock:

Willock: "The time has passed for a quiet evolution of the BII brand"

The BII (British Institute of Innkeeping) claims in its mission statement: “To be the professional body for the licensed retail sector in all its dimensions. We will encourage new entrants and help them develop their long-term careers. We will provide all our members with high-quality qualifications, information, skills and business benefits to help them succeed.”

And yet it finds itself in a situation as perilous as that facing the industry it serves.

On the eve of a vote among members to accept or reject plans to restructure the organisation, the PMA has been sent documentation that highlights serious problems at the BII . Falling membership, declining market share and heavy financial losses characterise — if not an immediate crisis — a serious wake-up call for the BII. A naïve business deal with a Chinese partner heaps embarrassment on injury.

And yet CEO Peter Thomas is fronting up to the challenge of making the BII fit for purpose. He deserves our support and best wishes in that endeavour. Among all the criticism the PMA has seen writ large on the BII’s dirty laundry, it is impossible to find a bad word said about Thomas.

His reaction to the PMA’s call on Monday when we presented him with the information that came into our possession — at a time that could hardly have been more awkward — was controlled and professional.

He accepted the organisation’s failings. He refused to blame colleagues and predecessors (though the temptation must have been great). Instead he outlined his plans to return the BII to a solid footing. And he took the time to spell out his long-term vision for the organisation.

The BII needs to communicate better both inside and outside its existing membership. It needs to work with industry partners to reinforce its importance to the trade. It needs a stronger offer to prospective members, with more compelling member benefits. It needs to win the argument that quality beats convenience when it comes to licensed hospitality training. And it needs to win back the prestige and exclusivity of the BII logo.

The time has passed for a quiet evolution of the BII brand — that didn’t happen when it was needed. A revolutionary change is now required. BII members must put aside any parochial and self-interested concerns and put their trust in Thomas during his year in charge.

The BII members’ vote on the reorganisation plans on 8 May is critical. If it is lost, what then? Will council members who approved the motion be
obliged to resign? The fallout is almost unthinkable. Some of those who resist the proposed changes are long-standing servants of the BII. It would be unfair to dismiss them as self-interested agitators.

They have worked long enough for the cause to be afforded some respect. They are entitled to ask deep questions about the failures of leadership at the BII in recent years that have brought it to this situation.

But now is not the time to cut off the organisation’s nose to spite its face.

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