EXCLUSIVE: FCSI UK branch shut down after regional fall-out

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The FCSI UK and Ireland will cease to exist as a body from December 31st after the chapter was sensationally voted out of the association by members of the regional EAME (Europe, Africa and Middle East) division to which it belongs.

The shock move follows a dispute between the UK chapter and EAME over the value that UK consultants receive from belonging to the division. Collectively the UK branch contributes £25,000 a year to EAME to support its running, but it has been arguing for more clarity over what members get in return.

Chairman Andrew Etherington and vice-chairman David Bentley flew to Germany earlier this week to attend an FCSI EAME board meeting in Germany where news of the termination was given.

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They had travelled to the meeting in the belief that an agreed framework was in place to secure the future relationship with EAME and the Worldwide society as a whole following six months of discussions around proposals to assist in delivering added value to UK members. However, the EAME Board rejected the claims.

In an email circulated to professional and allied members last night, the FCSI UK said: “[EAME] voted unanimously to terminate our affiliation, and without the offer of any further discussion or negotiation. We have thus been informed that from 1st January 2016 the FCSI UK & I division will cease to exist, the Executive will be disbanded and we will no longer be able to use the FCSI name, brand or image.”

The email said that the UK Executive felt “huge disappointment” at receiving this rebuff by the EAME Board, as it believed that progress had been made since June, and that a solution to its request for value for money for the UK & I membership was just around the corner. “This disappointment is compounded by the fact that we were given no chance to continue our association with FCSI EAME,” the email said.

Speaking with Foodservice Equipment Journal this morning, chairman Andrew Etherington confirmed the split. He said: “We have been very clear about this whole issue of value for money for a considerable period of time and it has come to a head in the last six months. But we fully believe we had an agreement ratified so the termination of the UK membership has come as a great shock.”

Asked if there was any chance of a U-turn from EAME, Etherington told FEJ that all his emails and voicemails to EAME since the meeting earlier this week have not been returned.

He will therefore now lead a working party to set up a new body for foodservice consultants in the UK, which is likely to be operational in the New Year.

“While this is obviously not the outcome we intended, it does now give us an opportunity to establish in the UK an independent association, or a ‘phoenix from the ashes’ organisation, that better reflects the UK business structure and the UK market. We did feel constrained by having to abide by certain rules that were not appropriate to how we do business in the UK, so this gives us the chance to put in place the structure that we feel will benefit the consultancy profession.”

Consultants that Foodservice Equipment Journal spoke to this morning were mixed about the closure of the FCSI branch. Some suggested an independent UK consultants body would actually be stronger, pointing the success of German consultants body VDF, which arose from the disbandment of the German FCSI brancg several years back.

Others, however, questionned the impact that it would have on UK consultants that do a lot of work outside of the UK, in markets such as the Middle East and Africa.

One foodservice equipment manufacturer, meanwhile, said the current structure needed a “shake-up” and hoped it would lead to the creation of a body that is more self-funded by professional members rather than ‘allied’ members, such as suppliers.

Radford Chancellor, director of foodservice consultancy Radford Chancellor Ltd, said his business generates £50,000 worth of overseas business a year directly from its FCSI membership status and therefore has no plans to relinquish ties with the association.

“We are open to the concept of [an independent UK association] and actively support the idea of it, but we would have to see the structure of that new body first. We value our FCSI membership very highly and are currently seeking to transfer our membership to EAME – and we have been told that we can do this with no loss of privilege.”

The UK’s termination from EAME suggests that UK consultants will no longer be able to use the FCSI letters after their names unless they choose to take up individual ‘non aligned’ membership directly with EAME.

In the letter to members last night, the FCSI wrote. “We understand that [FCSI EAME president] Martin Rahmann will be writing to all UK & Ireland members explaining that there will no longer be a local chapter, and it is understood that they will be offered “non-aligned” membership directly with EAME.  This will mean that you will be grouped with the small amount of members that EAME have in countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Russia, and you will lose the support that you have enjoyed over the years including local meetings, joint events with other industry associations, the Forum, networking, PR and administrative support.”

The FCSI EAME have been contacted for comment, but at the time of publication had not responded.

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Andrew Seymour

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