A Message from the President !

I am taking the opportunity to raise a topic that gets to the very heart of the I.B.O.’s objectives – the thorny issue of the accreditation scheme and its use within the Anglican faculty and grant-aid systems. While this applies to other denominations, the Church of England is our main source of income. Let’s lay the problems on the table, bearing in mind that this is not about individuals but about how the system works as a whole.

When it was first set up, there was an expectation that accreditation would become a necessary passport to getting work within the Church of England. That doesn’t seem to be the case. We have a situation where members are complaining that they are losing work to non-accredited firms.

The accreditation scheme does not come cheaply. Each organ builder pays individual fees for up to seven categories every seven years to cover inspectors’ expenses. Volunteers on the I.B.O.’s Accreditation Committee invest much time in visiting the organs that are put forward for inspection. Those of us in the scheme are merrily keeping our accreditation blobs up to date, but are they being used when parishes select firms for tendering? There is perhaps a feeling among firms that have gone to the trouble of being accredited that Diocesan Organ Advisers could do more to encourage parishes to use accredited members.

There is a feeling, too, that advice given by D.O.A.s is not always most appropriate and the advice given varies widely from diocese to diocese. Strictly speaking, D.O.A.s are there to advise the diocese and chancellors of the worthiness of the schemes being put forward by churches. Some D.O.A.s take this literally and do not become involved until a scheme is presented to them via the diocesan office. Others prefer to be involved from the outset and offer advice to churches in order to smooth the way when the faculty application is made. Sometimes though, their advice is not sought or is not taken.

D.O.A.s come together at their annual conference but otherwise seem to work autonomously. They are not organised as a national body. The system is not joined up in the sense that poor work by a ‘cowboy’ firm in one diocese is often not communicated to others. On the other hand, we have members who feel that individual D.O.A.s harbour prejudices that stop them getting work.

Some have questioned whether D.O.A.s have the necessary expertise to advise on highly technical matters. There is at present no training scheme for them. The I.B.O. has offered to lay on training days which has been received positively but is proving difficult to get off the ground with a group whose only common factor is an annual conference.

I don’t wish in any way to be critical of individual D.O.A.s who willingly and freely give their time to serve in this way. We would be much worse off without them and the Church of England is better organised than many other denominations. It’s not the individuals but the system that is not working as well as it could.

Turning now to accreditation and the grant-aid system, David Knight of the Church Buildings Council tells me that only 50% of such applications are from I.B.O. accredited firms. He would like to see it raised to 100%. We of course agree but he rather surprised me by suggesting that the problem lay at the door of the I.B.O. for not convincing parishes of the benefits of using I.B.O. members. Taking this on board, whom do we need to convince?

Ultimately it is the Parochial Church Councils who make the decisions, often taking advice from their organists. How many churches have heard of the I.B.O.? But P.C.C.s are made up of lay people who are generally not experts in organs and who serve a term of three years or six years maximum. It would need an expensive and continuous advertising scheme in the non-organ press to reach such numbers.

What about the clergy then? Their terms of office are of course much longer and they would be a smaller and easier group to target. They often find themselves in the role of project managers for significant schemes, not just organs. Many don’t know how contracts work and aren’t trained in such areas - it wasn’t what led them to be ordained. I am advised that there is little prospect of having access to theological colleges to offer a short training session. Others have tried for years without success. Courses are already crammed, and increasingly new clergy are not interested in organs or even buildings.

David Knight raised another challenge for the I.B.O.. What are we doing to tackle the problem of poor work by firms outside the I.B.O.? The I.B.O. has tried to be inclusive from the outset. It has encouraged all engaged in the trade to join, whatever their standard of work. You don’t need business membership or accreditation to join as an individual member. The aim is then to work towards business membership. Those of us who have achieved this status continue to learn from others and share knowledge. Members openly discuss technical problems in a spirit of mutual self-help. I think the I.B.O. has done much to reach the position where the best British firms can stand comparison with the best from abroad. Yet there are other firms that are quite happy to carry on as they are and never change. They seem to have no incentive to raise their game. Perhaps there needs to be a tightening of the requirement for accreditation.

The bottom line is that the Church is not being served as well as it should. There must surely be a better way, including ways the I.B.O. could provide a better service. I would like to see a forum of representatives of D.O.A.s, the C.B.C. and the I.B.O. to address these issues, and I would welcome constructive input from I.B.O. members.

We must not lose sight of the fact that we are all on the same side — trying to raise organ building standards — but coming at it from different directions. We can only try …

Andrew Moyes - President