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Balancing the budget

In this month’s senior officer blog, Professor Simon Bowman explains that ensuring the financial security and sustainability of the RCP lie at the heart of his role as treasurer.

My personal involvement in the RCP (apart from MRCP) began as a member of Council in 2014–16 as president of the British Society for Rheumatology. I subsequently applied for the roles of deputy treasurer and Harveian librarian before taking over as treasurer from Professor Chuka Nwokolo in April 2022. I’m about a third of the way through my 5-year term so now seems like a good time to describe what I do as treasurer.

By way of historical background, the first reference to the role of RCP treasurer was the appointment of Dr William Baronsdale in 1583. In 1751, the treasurer was authorised to open a bank account, initially in their own name, and it was only in 1823 that an account in the name of the college itself was opened. Today the RCP has a finance team to operate the day-to-day and longer-term finances, which include cash flow, forecasting, budgets, annual reports and regulatory returns, internal and external audit, risk registers, payroll, procurement, staff pensions, VAT, and investments. As treasurer, therefore, ‘blending’ of the RCP assets in a personal bank account is no longer acceptable!

My role is essentially as an enabler of the RCP’s wide-ranging activities. My first duty is to ensure that it is financially viable, ie a ‘going concern’. It is no secret that the past few years have been tough for us following the COVID pandemic. We are a ‘people’ organisation with face-to-face teaching, events and examinations as some of our core activities, all of which ground to a halt during lockdown. We lost a significant amount of our reserves due to COVID. Rising interest rates on the loan taken out for The Spine (our new building in Liverpool) and inflation have increased all of our costs, including payroll and energy, and will largely be the cause of the projected annual deficit in 2023, compared to a broadly break-even position last year.

We have been working hard to address these challenges by reducing our costs while still delivering education and examinations, influencing government and supporting quality improvement and accreditation projects among all the many broad activities carried out by the RCP. On the positive side, our rapid pivot to digital events via RCP Player and online meetings when COVID hit was a great achievement.

We are probably now as lean as we can be to continue all the activities that we do to support our fellows and members. Any decisions on what to stop doing in order to save money are not straightforward. The major challenge in the coming years will be to reduce our estate costs as we adjust to the post-pandemic world and recognise that the future of the college is much more than bricks and mortar.

Working from home post-pandemic has radically reduced our office space requirements and, as a result, we now sublet several floors in The Spine and part of our estate in London. We are developing an estates strategy, which is likely to take a few years to achieve given the parlous state of commercial property and the global economy in general right now.

The RCP has a long history of charitable fundraising. We are grateful to a number of major charitable organisations for their financial support for The Spine as well as individual donations such as that from Dr Sarfraz Qureshi. The Linacre and Donal O’Donoghue walls have provided a great opportunity for fellows and others to support the work of the RCP on a regular basis.

In the meantime, I will continue to support my fellow officers and encourage sensible cost savings and income-generating activities and try and reduce our estate costs in order to balance our budget and rebuild our reserves. The financial security and sustainability of the RCP are at the heart of my commitment to my role as treasurer.