It’s that time of year again when we start seeing the annual reports from our professional bodies. In the past I have commented about the potential for good that these reports can bring but that so often they are a missed opportunity in that they are used as a marketing tool rather than a vehicle to relay good information. While I do not intend this year to name and shame the authors of the annual reports I would like to take some time reflecting on at least one of the reports.

I often read in financial columns about companies with multi-million pound turnovers who, despite having a massive turnover are actually really poor performers as they do not realise any profit at all and often end up declaring bankruptcy. The point here is that it is not the turnover that reflects the success of the business but the profit. Companies that are reluctant to publish their profits often fill me with suspicion as they more often than not are attempting to hide failure or shortcomings by making their activity look better than it is. The same could be said of an annual report that merely tells us how busy the organisation has been in the previous year without telling us whether any of that activity has actually yielded results or not. What I want to see in an annual report are the outcomes against the targets set for the year in the previous report.

It is fair to say that none of our professional bodies has ever stated to its membership what its goals are for the coming year and has never set out how they will measure their success against those targets. I have to ask why that is? Apart from the GOC, whose fees we all have to pay in order that we can practise, the other organisations are membership organisations and as such should be seeking to show us the value of our payment to them. Just listing a load of activities in the previous year does nothing to show whether as a member I have had good value for the very large sum of money I have paid. What I want to see is a series of targets for the year and then in the annual report I want to see the outcomes against those targets. Have the targets been reached and if so what benefits has this brought. If the targets have not been reached why not and what has been put in place to ensure that the targets are reached in future. What improvements will be made to increase the efficiency of the system to ensure goals are met and, hopefully, exceeded in the future.

The report I have in front of me gives glowing accounts of how busy the organisation has been. To be honest, reading the report you might wonder how the year only had 365 days in it such seems to be the level of the reported activity. But nowhere does it demonstrate that any of this activity has been of any use to the membership at all.

Last year I made a request that when our professional bodies publish their annual reports they do so in a way that is meaningful to their membership and not simply as a marketing tool. I said then that a list of ‘jobs done’ is just not satisfactory and represents poor value for money to the memberships and indeed may be suggestive of a need to cover up failures in a ‘smoke and mirrors’ way that suggests to the memberships success when in reality there has been abject failure.

Sadly none of the bodies has seen fit to do this. Of course this may be because they are covering up abject failure or it could show a level of unhealthy arrogance suggesting they know better than their membership. Because we have no way of judging their performance against established benchmarks we will never know which it is.

I did wonder whether this was all a bit of a fuss over nothing and that asking for real transparency was maybe asking for too much until a former CEO from another organisation read one of these annual reports and when commented about is asked the question: ‘What are they hiding?’ So please next year can the memberships of the various professional bodies receive a meaningful annual report and not just an annual marketing tool?

Finally I would like to congratulate the AOP on its recent initiative aimed at putting a stop to illegal selling of cosmetic contact lenses. This initiative is well overdue and the document they have produced which we can all use in our local areas, is a very good one and I would hope that as practitioners who care about eyesight in our communities we will all actively involve ourselves in using this as a deterrent to these illegal sales. It will be interesting to see how the AOP intends to assess the outcomes of this campaign and I look
forward to seeing the results in next year’s annual report.