A message from the President of the Board of General Purposes, RW Bro Anthony Wilson, PJGW
As a result of Grand Lodge in March agreeing a substantial increase in Grand Lodge dues next year, the Grand Secretary has received many letters of concern.
It is clear from many of the points raised that the reasons given at the Quarterly Communication in March were not always fully understood. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to reiterate the key reasons and then explain the costs that Grand Lodge has to cover from its dues and, therefore, what our money is spent on.
One of the major reasons is the cost of maintaining Freemasons’ Hall, which was built by the Craft as a memorial to those who died in the Great War. It is not only a monument to them but is the flagship of Freemasonry in England and Wales and our headquarters. It belongs to all our members and we have a duty both morally and legally (it is a Grade 2* listed building) to keep it in good repair. Unfortunately it is now over seventy-five years old and becoming increasingly expensive to maintain.
Another reason is that for a number of years Grand Lodge dues have been subsidised by investment income. If investment income is removed from the accounts, Grand Lodge has been operating on a deficit between operating income and expenditure. Using investment income to bridge that gap has meant that we have not been able to build-up any significant contingency or sinking fund for major expenditure on the structure of Freemasons’ Hall.
Therefore, when faced with the substantial cost of paying for the removal of asbestos we had insufficient funds set aside.
Raising the dues in 2006 by £9 (including VAT) will enable us to meet operating expenditure out of income, build up sufficient reserves for undoubted future major structural repairs and spread the recovery of the asbestos costs over a three-year period, rather than by a one-off charge in one year. In percentage terms the rise in Grand Lodge dues seems enormous but in real cash terms it is about twenty pence per week. The Board is responsible for the finances of Grand Lodge and believes, after lengthy discussion, that this is the best way forward to ensure Grand Lodge’s financial future.
In 2004 we received three windfalls: from the sale of a non-Masonic painting, the sale of a property in Great Queen Street and an unexpected legacy. Whilst these have given us the cash flow to pay for the asbestos removal, without selling our investment portfolio, to have used them permanently would have been like selling the family silver. These windfalls are capital assets which are, and should remain, part of our endowment.
It has been suggested that the proceeds from the sale of the painting should have been used to defray the asbestos costs. The painting was part of the heritage of the Craft. It is only proper that the proceeds should be used to endow the Library and Museum of Freemasonry and be put back into acquiring additions to and maintaining the Masonic collections housed in the Library and Museum.
Turning to the annual costs of Grand Lodge, these fall into two main areas: the costs of administering the Craft and the costs of maintaining Freemasons’ Hall.
The administration of the Craft is carried out by the Grand Secretary’s office, which has five main divisions: the Grand Secretary’s private office, Communications, Finance, Operations and Secretariat and Registration. Their work includes the processing of annual and installations returns for the Craft and Royal Arch; the printing and distribution of business papers and Minutes for Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter; amendments to and new editions of the Book of Constitutions and Masonic Year Book; organisation of Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter meetings; servicing the Board and Committee of General Purposes, and The Grand Master’s Council; dealing with matters relating to the Constitutions, procedure and protocol; publication and distribution of MQ magazine; general printing; public relations and information; promoting a positive image of Freemasonry; developing and maintaining the new Adelphi registration system; maintaining contact with recognised Grand Lodges overseas and facilitating intervisitation by members; running and maintaining Freemasons’ Hall; managing the complex finances of a major membership association; and dealing with a myriad of Masonic questions from both home and abroad which arrive by post, telephone and email.
Each of the departments works to an agreed budget, which is reviewed on a monthly basis. New financial systems were introduced five years ago which enable us to monitor and review progress and to track areas where savings can and have been made.
The costs of Freemasons’ Hall include the standard costs of council tax, water, gas, electricity, insurance and, increasingly, security. They also include general maintenance and repair costs, but not major refurbishment or structural operations which, in an aging, listed building, have to be costed and budgeted for separately.
Whilst over the last few years Grand Lodge dues have risen in line with inflation, in absolute terms there has been only a slight increase in income as a result of falling membership. In contrast, rents at Freemasons’ Hall have risen by more than inflation and now represent 14% of income. This reflects both rises in room rents, so that users pay a fair share of costs, and the success of allowing outsiders to use parts of the Hall. The Board is currently reviewing accommodation at Freemasons’ Hall, and how it can be used further, without detriment to the purposes for which it was built, to maximise the income it can generate.
I can assure you that the decision to raise Grand Lodge dues was, therefore, not taken lightly and only after much thought and debate. The Board is aware that it could have an effect on membership, but in real terms the new level of dues is the equivalent to less than 40 pence per week, which is a very modest amount to belong to such a “club”.
The Board and I are very aware of two particular areas of concern – firstly the effect on those on fixed incomes and on those with multiple memberships. However, any outcome has to avoid relieving one section of our membership by disproportionately increasing the burden of the rest. Whilst we acknowledge the problem of fixed incomes, unfortunately the age profile of our membership, which shows approximately 35% of the membership is over 65, means that giving any reduction would put a disproportionate burden on the younger members, upon whom we depend for the future of our organisation. We are, nevertheless, planning to relieve some of the burden of multiple memberships by giving relief to those who belong to an Installed Masters Lodge as well as another Lodge. A proposal to do so will be laid before Grand Lodge in September.
I hope that the above explanation will increase the Craft’s understanding of why the rise in Grand Lodge dues is necessary. The Board takes its responsibilities very seriously and would be failing in its duty to the Craft if it did not take what it regards as essential steps to safeguard the future financial stability of the Craft, to ensure that the administration can continue efficiently to service the Craft, and that we can maintain and hand on to our successors our flagship building so that it remains a fitting and working memorial to those whom it commemorates.