Issues have surfaced at the British Mountaineering Council and GB Climbing in recent months surrounding overspending and governance. We sent questions to CEO Paul Davies.
In July, we asked 'What's happening at the BMC?' following news of redundancies, overspending and a projected 2023 deficit of over £275K if the status quo were maintained. We highlighted our concerns about the competing interests of the BMC's representative role in outdoor access versus its governing body role in competition climbing and criticised the lack of transparency and clear communication. Meanwhile, more revelations and rumours were surfacing. An updated statement from the BMC and a 'CEO Q&A' with CEO Paul Davies were subsequently published by the BMC in mid-August, but this left us with more questions than answers—especially relating to the management of GB Climbing, the internal business unit of the BMC which manages competition climbing.
The delayed sharing of the Competition Climbing Performance Group (CCPG) report with the Members' Council raised further questions. The CCPG is tasked with 'steering and developing the BMC's work in managing competitions and supporting the talent pathway and GB Climbing squads at all levels'. UKClimbing gained access to the CCPG report (not via the BMC).
In an effort to find out more about the state of the BMC and GB Climbing, we asked the BMC if we could send questions for Paul to answer.
We were informed that Paul was on leave and that a video Q&A with the CEO would be filmed and published by the BMC answering some questions brought up online.
Unwilling to rely on the BMC's messaging alone, we sent a list of questions to CEO Paul Davies on 7 August and some more on 16 August as the news of cancelled in-person Area Meetings broke.
We were subsequently invited to ask questions for the BMC's own video in person, but declined due to the lack of editorial independence.
We initially gave the BMC a deadline for answers of 12 noon this Monday (21 August), and extended to 12 noon on Wednesday (23 August) due to Paul's leave and work commitments. We also declined an opportunity to meet in person for a one-to-one discussion with Paul this week.
Below are our questions and the responses from BMC CEO Paul Davies.
Questions sent from UKC to the BMC:
Third-quarter meeting minutes from 2022 suggest that the BMC board was aware of an overspend by GB Climbing of £38K (The reforecast showed an actual deficit of £323K, and the year ended with a deficit of £0.27M) prior to the decision to host the World Cup at Ratho (a spend of £90K against a £53K budget). Were you personally aware of the overspend by GB Climbing, and why was it considered sensible to host the event?
The decision to host the World Cup at Ratho was taken in June, this was before we were aware of the overspend in GB Climbing activity.
There is confusion over the budget and the expenditure on the World Cup. The board agreed to support the event, within a budget window of £47,500 and £93,500. The difference between the two amounts was the potential for contribution from various partners that had been identified. Some of this income was realised and others were not (this is answered in your other question).
The Board agreed that we would host this event for a number of reasons – including but not limited to: building profile and reputation for BMC and GB Climbing; building stronger partnerships within Scotland (a key partner in GB Climbing) and with existing and potential commercial partners and grant funding bodies; demonstrating capability to host World Cup events in the future.
As you have identified, we were able to deliver this event, and deliver it to a high standard whilst still hitting our agreed budget target for 2022.
Who are the partners you mention in the BMC Q&A in relation to 'significant commercial partner investment' and 'development of relationships' thanks to the Edinburgh World Cup? How much money does GB Climbing receive from these partners in total?
This information is commercially sensitive, so we cannot go into detail on this.
We do present information in our annual accounts each year and always publicise any new partnerships that we establish. Thank you for your understanding and for considering our perspective on this point.
'We did not secure the support from UK Sport that we had hoped for';'The support from the IFSC that we had expected did not appear.' The IFSC does not usually offer financial support to World Cup hosts. What were you expecting from them? What support were you expecting from UK Sport?
The IFSC does not usually offer financial support, but in this circumstance, where they were seeking a host to deliver a World Cup on less than 3 months' notice they were very helpful in terms of support around event hosting fees (cost), athlete entry fees (cost and income) and broadcast (cost and income). We did not quite get all the support that we expected in some areas, so we were a little over budget there.
We had hoped that UK Sport would support the event through their Performance Events Programme, we had a number of positive discussions with them on this, but ultimately we were not able to show a strong enough link between the Ratho World Cup and Olympic qualification – we knew that it would not provide direct Olympic qualification, but we had made a case that it would indirectly support qualification through ranking points.
UKC Fact Check
In the 'CEO Q&A', Paul Davies claimed that 'The support from the IFSC that [they] had expected did not appear.' Knowing that the IFSC does not typically offer financial support to World Cup hosts, we asked the IFSC to comment on this claim. They responded via email:
"We are very sorry to learn of Mr Davi[e]s' statement regarding the organisation of the IFSC World Cup Edinburgh 2022. Ahead of the event, the IFSC made the exceptional decision to grant additional financial support to the British Mountaineering Council, acknowledging their commitment to host the event on a short notice. The final amount was connected to the number of registered athletes competing in Edinburgh, and both the IFSC and BMC agreed with this principle. The IFSC fully respected its side of this agreement, and again, is very displeased by Mr Davi[e]s' comment."
'The capacity of Ratho limited the number of tickets we could sell.' Previous IFSC events had been held at Ratho and the quota would have been known to organisers. Why was this not considered?
We knew this early on, but we also knew that the only place that we could host this event at such short notice, was Ratho. So, whilst ticket sales were great, we knew that we couldn't expect the kind of ticket income we might have achieved in a venue with a larger seating capacity. Of course, we could have tried to get more income by inflating the ticket prices, but we believe that we did the right thing by keeping the ticket costs reasonable.
UK Sport Paris 2024 Progression funding has more than doubled since Tokyo 2020. From publicly available information on the UK Sport website, it would appear that only £71,472K has been drawn down from £1,562,813 of UK Sport funding for 2021-2025 (unless you have been requesting amounts sub-£25K?)? If this is accurate and with only 18 months to go until Paris 2024, how will the additional £1.5M be put to use?
This information is not accurate. We have drawn down, and will continue to draw down, the UK Sport Progression funding relatively evenly across the four years of the grant.
With less than one year to go until Paris we have already started discussions with UK Sport about what support we might receive from them for the Los Angeles 2028 cycle. It has been suggested that there might be an expectation from UK Sport to increase our percentage contribution, so we would like to take the opportunity to clear that up – UK Sport have been clear that they will again expect BMC to co-invest, but there is no intention for them to stipulate that this will be at a higher percentage than we currently do.
Sport England funding was delayed by one year (and from documents on their website, it seems only ~£123K has been drawn down by the BMC between October 2021 and February 2023? Have there been smaller payments issued?). Given this figure plus the small contribution from UK Sport, does this mean that grant-funded posts were paid for by the BMC? If so, how much was this and was it shared with the Board?
The Sport England grant is split across the 3 broad categories of Systemic, Governing and Talent. It was a joint submission led by the BMC and involving ABC, NICAS, Mountain Training England and Mountain Training UK & Ireland. The grant received is split across these "Funded Partners" to deliver the many projects and activities that make up the overall submission.
Of course, there will be some year-to-year fluctuation depending on project timeframes, but again, this has been drawn down relatively evenly up to now and that pattern will continue.
We were fortunate that there was no break in funding from Sport England, so grant funded posts have continued to be grant funded without a need to rely on BMC membership subs to cover them. Grant funding allows the BMC to bolster its capacity and, in some cases, put people in to positions that we might not otherwise be able to afford to fund. For example, we have been able to employ a full time Safeguarding Manager and a full time Diversity and Inclusion Manager through Sport England funding. We also have some joint BMC and Sport England or UK Sport roles, such as our Climbing Development Officer (BMC/SE) and our Safeguarding Officer (BMC/UK Sport).
How is the participation and talent pathway as defined by Sport England being implemented in the work of GB Climbing? How and at what point does the grassroots connect with the pathway leading to elite level representation in international competitions?
We would love to answer this question, but it is one where it would take a full page to outline all the detail that would be required. We would be very happy to collaborate on an article that outlines both this and all the work that is going on to ensure that we ultimately create a world class pathway and also work with partners to create a competition structure for all those who want to compete in Sport, Ice or SkiMo (both Para and able bodied).
As a pre-Olympic year, there are some expensive events to attend in 2023 such as the IFSC World Championships in Bern. According to figures posted in our forums by Andy Syme, GB Climbing has a 2023 budget of £826,030 from grant funding. How much are the BMC and partners adding to the kitty on top of this funding? (15% is the minimum contribution required by Sport England as a condition of their funding, is this correct?)
What is and what isn't GB Climbing is not well understood, and we acknowledge that explaining this is an area we are keen to improve.
This is just one reason we suggested a more in-depth, qualitative face-to-face meeting/discussion and video interview with yourself / UKC, which we feel would provide the ideal platform for meaningful dialogue allowing a far more comprehensive understanding of the complex issues at hand.
The total budget allocated to all activities that relate to the competition aspects of Sport, Ice, SkiMo and Para is in the region of £1.2m for 2023 (in addition to GB Squad activity, this includes the Talent work (funded by SE), all the domestic competitions that the BMC runs (such as BBC's, YCS etc) and any support given to Ice, SkiMo and Para).
Partner funding is included within this total, while we value transparency, we must prioritise the integrity of our internal processes and we will not discuss commercially sensitive detail, but again our annual report and annual accounts are published each year.
The member contribution to that is just under 16%. UK Sport, require a minimum of 15% cofunding, SE require visible co-funding but do not stipulate an amount. As mentioned above, UK Sport has confirmed to us that there is no intention to increase the co-contribution percentage if we move up through the funding bands in the LA cycle.
For comparison, the 2022 expenditure of GB Climbing is listed at £0.96M in the BMC Annual Report.
Are staff time and travel expenses for competitions (coaches, chaperones) covered by GB Climbing grant funding or the BMC? There is a shared sentiment among athletes and parents online that little funds are making it to the athletes themselves and instead being spent on staff and their travel expenses. The 2022 Q3 Board minutes read: 'There was a lot of work going on with GB Climbing about how to better manage their finances, as they had overspent by £38,000. Three areas had been identified to help with this — education of GB Climbing staff in budget management, the drawdown of grants and athlete contributions.' How successful has GB Climbing been in resolving budget issues (especially when grants don't seem to be being drawn down, and athletes are struggling to fund their participation in events?)
Grant funding is ringfenced and very specific. It is the reality of the system that direct athlete payments are only available to those athletes who show significant potential to win a medal at the Olympic Games (UK Sport will not put any money into sports or disciplines that don't feature at Olympic or Paralympic Games).
The grant money allows us to 'add value' to athlete programmes through coaching, training camps, entry to and support at competitions. The amount of each will vary at each level of the pathway, with more support being available as athletes progress to GB senior level.
The full details of this would take time to describe in any level of detail. We remain dedicated to fostering a collaborative relationship with UKC, that allows for a more holistic and deeper understanding of the BMC and would welcome the opportunity to discuss this in more depth.
As mentioned above, it is not correct that grants are not being drawn down. The overspend in 2022 has been resolved through the 2023 budget, effectively repaying the £38k. We have restructured our whole financial system over the past 12 months which has allowed for better budget management and reporting.
Parents and athletes have commented publicly and privately about poor logistical organisation for international competitions, resulting in excessive financial cost, stress and athlete fatigue. There has been discussion online about an overspend of ~£30K on car hire/taxis at one particular event. Why are these issues occurring when more support (at least in terms of personnel, if not direct funding for athletes) appears to be available?
We acknowledge that logistical arrangements have not always been to the high standards that we expect and aspire to, and we apologise to those that have not had the experience they should have had.
Some of this has been down to the unique circumstances that have been encountered as the world opened from Covid restrictions - something that is still making travel more difficult and considerably more expensive than it was pre-Covid. Some of this has also been related to the ambitions of the programme and the number of athletes that it has tried to support, whilst at the same time trying to keep the overhead cost of staffing down - to allow more funding to be available for athlete facing activity.
We recognise that there have been times where our ambitions have outstripped our capacity to deliver, but we have listened, learnt, and will continue to drive improvements, and make every effort to give the best and most positive experience we can.
The programme is still young and developing and as such, teething problems should be expected. What is more important is that we evolve and continually improve our policies, protocols and processes to ensure we consistently progress.
How much involvement do athletes of GB Climbing have with regard to the running of the competitions programme and advising the CCPG?
This question is a little unclear, hopefully the answers below give you the insights you seek.
With regards to all BMC competitions, we always seek out feedback on the competitions that we run and ask for athlete/parent feedback to help us to continue to improve our competitions. (We also ask our volunteers, coaches and route-setters for their feedback)
With regards to the CCPG and decision making in the overall programme, this is something that we have struggled with. In the early stages of CCPG there was very good engagement, with an athlete representative at all meetings, but over time it became more difficult to find athletes that wanted or were able to attend the full meetings. We are actively working with the athlete group to try to find the best solution for this. We want to get athletes' voices into CCPG, yet we also know that our athletes are on the road a lot and when not competing want to focus on their training.
At the more recent CCPG meetings, we have had good representation from the Senior Athlete Leadership Team, who are also an important part of helping to bring 'athlete voice' into our day-to-day decision making.
There are mentions of safeguarding issues related to the BMC/GB Climbing in our forums. When were the BMC's safeguarding policies last updated?
The BMC has always had good structures in place for investigating and dealing with safeguarding concerns. Our longstanding independent Case Management Group, that is made up of experts in Safeguarding, has received external recognition for the quality of our work in this area. We have always made this group and the BMC's safeguarding expertise available to support anyone within our sector.
SE funding has allowed us to bolster our capacity by bringing in a full time Safeguarding Manager, who has recently completed a full review of all policies and procedures for reporting concerns. She has also reviewed old cases, including reinvestigating any concerns that have been raised where people may have been under the impression that things have not been investigated or dealt with – which is not the case.
With this additional capacity we are now able to do much more education and training, to ensure that the whole community has a better understanding of safeguarding and how we must all work together to ensure that our sport is a welcoming, safe (free from abuse) environment for all who want to participate.
We have recently simplified our reporting processes and we encourage anyone who has a safeguarding concern to report these to the BMC using https://bmc.vissro.com/public/bmccase.nsf/safeguarding-report.
UKC Fact Check
Until the board meeting of May 2023, the child safeguarding documentation was nine years out of date and still quoted a former staff member as the contact, despite being identified as a concern by the CCPG Review in December 2022. UKC checked internet archive history to confirm this and also found one current BMC safeguarding webpage with an old link to the previous 2014 document.
Do the BMC/GB Climbing have any frameworks in place for identifying and supporting climbers with eating disorders/RED-S — a current topic of concern on the IFSC circuit and the wider climbing community?
Yes, this is something that we take very seriously. We'd love the opportunity to share with UKC readers the work that we are doing in this area and use your platform to help to get the message out about the support that is available for anyone who is struggling with eating disorders.
When will the CCPG report be published and why has there been a delay?
The CCPG report was initially intended as an informal internal audit process, so it was not structured or undertaken with the intention to publish it publicly (the Terms of Reference for the Review are clear that the Review Group was tasked to take input and then advise the board based upon their findings).
Several areas for improvement were identified, and over the last few months the findings of the report have been assessed by a task and finish group and an action plan has been drawn up. This has been a detailed process and it has taken time to explore each recommendation in the level of detail it deserves.
It is important to note that there has not been a delay to publication, as it was never the intention of the board to publish the report.
We have already discussed some of the aspects of the report with stakeholders, consulting with them on our proposed improvement areas. We will be continuing our discussions and consultation with athletes and parents, and we will review the need to publish the report itself.
UKC Fact Check
An annual review is in the CCPG's Terms of Reference: 'The CCPG shall: [...] Arrange for periodic reviews of its own performance, and at least annually review its consultation and terms of reference to ensure it is operating at maximum effectiveness and recommend any necessary changes to the Board for approval.'
Members Council meeting minutes from 18 June suggest that consultation about the report's findings was minimal, with one member of the council noting that 'it was very difficult to comment on the solutions being proposed, without knowing what the problem was.'
How much did Area meetings cost the BMC in 2022? Were cost-reduction options for in-person meetings looked into prior to cutting funding completely?
What are the 'free' meetings referred to in the email that was sent out - 'The Board hopes that the fact that online meetings have been proved successful, albeit with limits, and the success of "free" area meetings trialled in some Areas, will allow Area Chairs to have an effective means to conduct business' - and how do they function? How have you measured success?
The response in our forums suggests that the decision to use online meetings could distance and disengage members and volunteers. How will you ensure that these virtual meetings retain the democratic/interpersonal benefits of the in-person Area Meetings?
We are acutely aware that Area Meetings have always been a key part of our engagement with Members. We have heard "loud and clear" that for some Areas virtual only meetings are not the way that they wish to do this in their area.
Last week we went back out to our Area Chairs to acknowledge their concerns and with a commitment to work with them to allow face to face meetings to be reconvened where these are the preferred way of meeting.
How much did the Bern IFSC World Championships cost GB Climbing and how much did it cost the BMC?
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