Swings and roundabouts

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In recent years there has been a major restructuring of the 1,500 trade associations in the UK that predominantly have company corporate membership, and the hundreds of institutes and other professional bodies that have individual members. The trend has been for smaller organisations to link up to form larger organisations in the belief that they will have more power and influence, particularly when talking to Government departments. Pressure for consolidation has also come from companies that are members of more than one association and who are beginning to question the value of paying multiple annual subscriptions for themselves and their employees – in many cases for similar or related services.

Organisations representing logistics and transport interests have also been involved in such developments which are on-going as the individual professional members of the British International Freight Association (BIFA) have voted four to one in favour of a migration of their membership to the Institute of Transport and Logistics (ILT).

BIFA’s 4,300 individual members recognise themselves as members of the Institute of Freight Professionals and the Institute of Freight Forwarders. BIFA has maintained a qualification process for freight forwarders over many years but now says that it no longer has the resources to do this at a level that is both meaningful to members and their employers. As such, BIFA has decided it should relinquish its role as a provider of qualifications and is encouraging its professional members to migrate to the ILT which provides recognised and accepted qualifications for the logistics and transport sectors, not only in the UK but also globally.

BIFA received a 42% response rate for its ballot carried out in January and which resulted in 1,440 members voting in favour of migrating with the ILT and 352 against. There were two abstentions and 23 spoiled papers/cancelled memberships. Colin Beaumont, BIFA director general, is delighted with such a positive unambiguous vote: “These days BIFA is first and foremost a trade association, so I believe our individual members will be far better served in a professional institute that is dedicated to the needs of the individual, rather than corporate business. BIFA will therefore be continuing its core activity of serving all its trading company members.”

BIFA members will now be offered a new home in the ILT from April 1, 2004 with automatic acceptance at an equivalent grade. All existing BIFA members and fellow graduates will be automatically accepted as chartered members of the ILT. They will have access to the full range of ILT membership benefits including the opportunity to participate in local and regional groups for networking opportunities. Advice and information on a wide range of topics including legal, employment and career issues, is also available.

Although one third of the BIFA members voted in favour of migrating to the ILT, there were still some who were strongly against the move including Andrew Melton, manager of Hay World Cargo and an active member for the past ten years of the BIFA Manchester committee as well as a representative on some national policy groups and committees. In a letter published in International Freighting Weekly at the time the voting process was taking place, Melton said: “BIFA operates on a small number of permanent staff and a larger number of experienced freight personnel who volunteer their time to work on committees. The vast majority of these are professional members. It is my great concern that if the membership votes to migrate then this expertise will move with it, to the detriment of the freight forwarding industry as a whole.

“The ILT is a very good chartered institute with a membership of over 23,000 (22,000). The BIFA members who migrate will form a very small percentage of the ILT and begs the question, will their needs be met any better than BIFA presently does?”

Another potential problem is that there is a significant gap between existing BIFA membership fees, that have not been increased for some time, and ILT subscriptions that have increased 40% from 2001. BIFA’s annual subscription for an individual member is £60 and £42 for an associate member, whereas the equivalent rates for ILT members are £105 and £94.50 respectively. A chartered fellow of the ILT pays £166.50 and a chartered member £135.50.

Transition subscription rates have been arranged to lessen the impact of these increases and, obviously, to attract as many members as possible to join the ILT. BIFA members who move to the ILT will pay £80 subscriptions from the April 1, 2004 until April 1, 2005 when subscriptions will be replaced by those ILT rates current at that time.

Should the ILT be able to attract another 4,000 members virtually overnight then this would certainly help to enhance its prestige by increasing its membership base to around 26,000, and by bringing in much needed extra annual subscription fees.

Only time will tell whether the ILT has a strong enough portfolio to capitalise on this new window of opportunity.

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