COVID Blog 4:

Crises bring forth extremes. Along with the dire effects of the COVID 19 crisis on professional body finances and the stress on staff and volunteers, there has been frustration with government policy, particularly on criteria for loan support as administered by banks and on business rates relief. However, on the other hand there have been heartening accomplishments and grounds for future optimism in the sector.


Professional body finances have suffered swift, and for many, catastrophic effects. While membership has been holding up reasonably well, there has been a precipitous decline in event activities, leading to plummeting fee, advertising and sponsorship income. In addition, lockdown has hampered the flow of new recruits into the professions. They are in many cases unable to continue with examinations and training, and are therefore prevented from gaining the necessary skills to qualify. This is concerning as new professionals are the lifeblood of professional bodies, and vital to achieving the social mission of sustaining the profession.

The furlough scheme offered by government has been successfully taken up by many professional bodies, who have found the system to be reasonably clear and easy to access. However, there have been frustrations with other aspects of government support. Four particular issues were raised at the meeting PARN arranged between CEOs of professional bodies and senior staff at BEIS.

First, were concerns with the interruption to qualification processes due to the difficulty of holding exams. Guidance and support on exams and flexibility from regulators were raised as concerns.

Second, has been the exclusion of business rate relief for professional bodies, particularly as not only are buildings closed to office work, but also for many, buildings are used for training and conferences, which have not been operating.

Third, the CIBLS system of loan support is being administered by banks, who have very limited understanding of how professional bodies operate. Using standard criteria such as the level of profit in 2019 is inappropriate. It ignores the difference between surplus and profit, and the positive use of reserves to invest in improving services, which then appears as a deficit. In addition, they require substantial financial information, beyond what is normally needed to run a professional body. Sourcing this information is costly and may seem hardly worth the effort due to the very uncertain prospect of achieving desired loans.

Fourth, the uncertainty about the future path of job retention support, caused by recent confusing government announcements on easing lockdown, has added to frustration.

On the positive side, having opened communication on a collective basis, the reaction from BEIS was heartening. In addition to considering the points raised, BEIS senior staff expressed their willingness to connect the concerns of professional bodies to other government departments, since several of the issues raised at the meeting are being administered elsewhere.

Furthermore, there have been positive and innovative initiatives undertaken and achieved at professional bodies. The transition to virtual working has proceeded apace, sometimes surprising CEOs at how well staff have adapted to the new way of working. Good platforms for virtual working have been satisfactorily taken up. Increased contact with members, and the dissemination of information about lockdown and its consequences, has earned frequent plaudits from members. This increased activity in communication to members has been reflected by professional bodies, who have seen staff workload rising, negating the need to furlough many, or even any staff.

In addition, certain innovations have been successfully undertaken. For example, one professional body has overcome the problem of using scratch paper during a virtual exam invigilation. They are providing a piece of acetate paper, which is printed in house, and which acts as a whiteboard to write on. This can be shown by the examinee to invigilators as wiped clean at the end of the exams.

The lockdown has encouraged some professional bodies to develop streamlined governance procedures, by focusing committees and the governing body onto very limited, but critical issues, and keeping normal procedures to a minimum. Many report having refocused CPD with more flexible requirements, also offering specific content to match what members need to know as the crisis proceeds through different phases. Encouragingly, staff good cheer is being promoted by staff-generated communications, with light-hearted items such as sharing recipes and other ways of staving off boredom during lockdown.

As we move towards easing of the lockdown, some of the difficulties will be reduced, though new frustrations may arise, along with the continued need for innovative practice and good cheer.

Andy Friedman

18 May 2020


This is Andy’s forth blog on the COVID 19 situation for professional bodies. The previous three can be found here:

1. 14 April 2020

2. 24 April 2020

3. 4 May 2020