Simon Campbell believes the Royal Society of Chemistry has a unique opportunity to modernise governance to better meet its internal and external challenges.

Simon Campbell

Simon Campbell

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) is the oldest chemical society in the world with some 45 000 members and a broad international presence in over 70 countries. It combines learned and professional activities with a major commercial publishing operation. Membership spans the range of students, teachers, Nobel laureates and senior figures in industry. With a staff of 250 and a turnover of around ?25m, the RSC is a substantial undertaking which is larger than many small companies.

In the commercial world, shareholders are becoming increasingly demanding of company governance and management performance. The RSC has no shareholders as such, but we are governed by our charter and our responsibilities to the Charity Commission, members and other stakeholders. It is important to remember that members of Council are trustees of the RSC charity and are personally responsible for its affairs.

The RSC must have a governance structure that discharges its charitable object and is able to act and make decisions on timescales consistent with the pace of modern life. Our present structure of a Council of 50 members has served us well to date, but the recent review carried out by the Council Steering Group recommended that new working practices were needed for continued effectiveness of the RSC in the years ahead. That is why the present Council overwhelmingly endorsed our report that recommends moving to a smaller Council with a maximum of 18 members that can meet more regularly. All RSC members are being asked to vote and support the necessary by-law changes these proposals will require at the extraordinary general meeting on 4 November.

Changing the size of Council is only one way that the governance of the RSC is being modernised. In addition, we plan to establish an annual general assembly of the membership to bring together representatives of all constituencies within the RSC to discuss and contribute to the RSC’s strategy and the development of its activities, services and polices. A new president’s forum will bring together the major boards and committees to ensure the RSC maximises the effort and support that can be focused on achieving our goals. The default mode of the RSC will be more open communication with a wider range of documents available on line so that members can understand the issues being addressed, activities and services being considered and can participate in any debate.

I believe the RSC has a unique opportunity to move forward with a modern governance system that reflects current best practice, discharges our charitable object, is responsive to members needs and enables us to meet internal and external challenges in a timely and effective manner. For example, the government has recognised many of our comments on the comprehensive spending review and 10-year plan for science and innovation, but we must now turn intentions into action over the next few months.

Key to our strategy will be emphasising the pivotal role chemical sciences play in our lives, now and in the future. In the UK, the chemicals industry has an annual turnover of over ?50bn and employs more than 250 000 people directly and supports many others. For the future, chemical sciences will play an important role in the interdisciplinary research programmes that will be required to solve major challenges such as global warming, energy utilisation, sustainable development and translating the human genome sequence into new medicines that will cure, rather than simply control, disease. Thus, it is essential we continue to press our case that chemical sciences be strengthened not only as a fundamental core subject, but also as the key discipline that underpins other areas of science.

We will be reinforcing all of these points in our discussions with government and funding agencies, but involving members and the wider chemical science community in our campaign is key to increasing RSC influence and eventual success. Our proposals aim to facilitate enhanced member participation so we can all work together to guarantee an exciting future for chemical sciences and the broader community.