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A letter from Sussex Place, May 2013

Ian Currie, Honorary Secretary, writes…

Each time you open the College website and see the picture of Sussex Place on the homepage, do you think that your College owns a wonderful historic building perched on the edge of an idyllic location?

I’ll let you into a little secret. 27 Sussex Place, like many other properties in London, is owned by the Crown Estate. It is leased to the College on a term that is gradually reducing.

Another common misconception is that the College has large amounts of money and is making vast profits from membership subscriptions and in particular examination fees. In reality, the College actually diverts much of its income to many educational initiatives that generate little or no income at all, for example, guideline production, e-learning, advocacy and global projects. When speaking around the country I often hear gibes about sitting in an ivory tower and drinking from the College wine cellar. Although those comments are normally said in jest, I do wonder if behind the smiles there is a belief that this is reality. The wine that is held was purchased long ago as an investment, has realised its value and most of it has been sold. Despite this, I still think the possession of a wine cellar sends out all the wrong messages about what we stand for and this is something that we will be looking at.

I have also mentioned before that the College is a charity. It is therefore bound by the strict regulations of charity law, governed by the Charity Commission. It is not legally permitted for any charity to hoard profits – in fact; we are by definition ‘not for profit’. Any surplus made by the College goes into its reserves, but these cannot become excessive. We hold 6 – 9 months of running costs as our free reserve, to manage risk and uncertainty, but no more than this. There are also strict rules about travel reimbursement that are also overseen by a talented audit committee.

What sort of College is needed then for the decades that lie ahead? I refer not to its mission statement or philosophy, rather the buildings and fabric of where we host our charity. Many Members and Fellows appreciate the fact that we have an institution; a focal point in London but many could not care less! I have written previously on communication and feel strongly that the RCOG should be outward looking and not totally London centric. In order to achieve this the President has asked me to lead on the concept of regionalisation over the next few months. I will endeavour to create a framework for the College to have a two-way communication with its Members and Fellows right throughout the UK and abroad.

This week I participated in a focus group with a selection of talented trainees with the sole intention of getting their opinion of the College and why they would ever want to be associated with such an institution. I came away thinking that even trainees (a much younger generation than myself) value coming to a central historical point now and again in their careers. Everyone will have a view as to what the College should or should not be doing and its direction will evolve. What must stay at the heart of that direction is women’s health.

Ian Currie
RCOG Honorary Secretary