Those devoted to `higher causes' know FA about management

The BBC was heading for an extinction crisis, just like the Football Association and the Royal Opera House
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The Independent Culture
I SHALL miss Graham Kelly. If ever a man habitually wore the proverbial face of a bulldog sipping piss from a nettle, it was the chief executive of the Football Association. His miserable features made great copy. But even more than missing him, I wonder at the circumstances of his departure. He resigned (rather than wait to be sacked) after a six-hour meeting of the FA's executive committee, which had been discussing the circumstances of a pounds 3.2m loan to the Welsh FA.

This loan had not, apparently, been authorised by the any of the FA's myriad committees or councils, but had instead - it is alleged - been agreed directly by Kelly and the FA chairman, coroner and ex-tennis star, Keith Wiseman. Only a letter from Wales requesting the first tranche of 400 grand alerted the FA grandees to the existence of this loan.

But what had been going on? There is no suggestion that this was one of those bung things that some football people used to get involved in, and by which they stood to gain large fortunes. No, this was more probably a political loan, granted in return for Cardiff's supporting Wiseman in his attempt to get elected to football's governing body, Fifa. Where, as well as cutting as fine a dash as a guy in sheepskin can, he would have been in a much better position to push the case for England's bid to stage the 2006 World Cup.

This bid is hugely important. Tony Banks, apparently, spends his time on little else, criss-crossing the globe in his efforts to bring Brazil, Argentina, Italy et al back to England after 40 years. The boost to the English game of hosting the competition cannot be overstated. Even sober, sensible, middle-aged men like me (and Tony Blair) go weak in the bladder at the thought of it. It would dominate our national life, gloriously, for months. Oh, the merchandising! And this may, I suppose, be the reason why Mr Wiseman has not yet resigned, despite a vote of no confidence in him. He may yet expect to be vindicated.

But, if the allegations are true, what a silly sod he is. Mostly for not realising that the old days are gone. When David Mellor described the FA as a "shambles" yesterday, he was talking about the lack of professionalism that appeared to characterise the association's doings in everything from the Welsh business to the assistance given by the head of communications to Glenn Hoddle's ill-advised (though lucrative) book about the last World Cup. I would simply add this for now: the FA has always been a shambles. Shambleses can exist relatively happily for years and years. But it is now far harder to survive in glorious disarray.

Ask Mary Allen. In her recently published diary of her short time as the chief executive for the Royal Opera House, A House Divided, Allen reveals an organisation in whose dictionary no word as Germanically taut and disciplined as "shambles" appears. Within a few days of taking over, she is told that a projected deficit that she assumed to be pounds 800,000 is now nearer pounds 6m. On 30 September 1997, she discovers an extra pounds 1m gap because VAT has not been accounted for. The following day she decides that a Cuban dancer should be paid a phenomenal amount because: "There is no point in having a Royal Ballet if it's not a good Royal Ballet." But she finds, on 7 October, that others in the ROH have the same view, and the Figaro sets are over budget by pounds 40,000. The next day she is told that there is an immediate and unanticipated cash flow crisis of pounds 600,000. A day later there is an imminent cash gap of pounds 2m.

She despairs. "How can any organisation be so utterly disorganised, have such a complete disregard for its own health and be so irredeemably hopeless at communicating within itself, as to allow a further pounds 1m loss to lie around, undiscovered, unidentified for four weeks during the budgeting process? I want to burst into tears." Allen's problems, as she describes them, are horrific. The management structures are chaotic; the artistic managers do not feel themselves responsible for finances, and her various boards and committees pull her in every direction at once. Unsurprisingly, Allen's tenure lasted less than seven months.

When she first arrived, Allen described the ROH as being like Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast, a vast, rambling, semi-dilapidated castle, run according to ancient custom and in which you could become lost for ever in a maze of corridors, rooms and broken towers.

It was the same word that I used about the BBC when I first joined its Lime Grove operation 10 years ago. The Beeb owned large numbers of crumbling old buildings, in which forgotten staff laboured on past projects; posts advertised at low levels of pay disguised huge and unwieldy overtime payments, which cost a fortune to administer; budgets were notional, with resources allocated by unit and not price. As a result, no one had any idea about how much anything cost. Personal contact and favours were the mortar that filled the cracks. Memos went from MEWSPNCATel to MEDNPRad, and were returned.

The BBC was heading for an extinction crisis, just like the FA and the ROH. It faced a completely new competitive situation, a government that did not love it, and the end of the gravy train, the annual cash bonanza caused by the switch from black-and-white to colour licences. Like the other two, the organisation served a "higher cause". Theirs were the People's Game and the Nation's Cultural Heritage: the BBC's was Public Service Broadcasting.

So Michael Checkland and John Birt, in particular, introduced management to the corporation. You know, like goals, priorities, systems, bar charts, graphs, communication exercises, objectives, appraisal, so that no one in the whole place could claim (no matter how artistic and removed from the common treadmill they were) to be ignorant of what was expected of them. A cost was found for everything, a limited internal market was introduced - more to change the prevailing culture than simply to save money.

It was, in many ways, awful. All of a sudden we creative types found ourselves writing endless reports, attending interminable courses. Management skills superseded visionary contributions to popular culture, when it came to becoming an actual manager. Morale, it was said, was at a catastrophically low ebb. A long moan went up in 1988, and is still to be heard whenever BBC people meet together.

But it worked. The BBC was not privatised, was not stripped of its licence fee, did not go bankrupt as its costs soared and its revenue declined, did not lose key services, stop producing drama or news. There weren't even (ssshhh!) that many job losses. It required obstinacy, clarity and a willingness to court unpopularity to achieve. Management sucks, just like government and parents. But, also like them, it's a whole lot better than the alternative. Ask Graham Kelly.