On Friday evening I went to the my sailing club's Annual General Meeting. Having served my time on General Committee at the club, I know how hard it is to set fees at a level that reflect the move in prices for the things we have to pay out, business rates, gas, electric, water etc. , to carry out the projects which members say that they want done to tight budgets and to save for the future and against major unexpected expenditure.
You could regard it as a microcosm of running a country. We have 'political parties' within the club broadly representing the fields of activity that we operate, cruisers of various sizes on moorings, racing dinghies, day cruising boats kept ashore etc. Mostly we live peacably side by side and get on with what we personally like doing most.
Inevitably conflicts of interest do occur of various proportions from quite minor tiffs over who gets prime spots in the boat park, to disagreements whether major projects or expenditures should go ahead at all and absolute essentials like what sort of beer we should have in the club bar.
Fortunately spring is on its way and hopefully we'll all be too busy soon actually sailing to argue with each other over anything much beyond the rules of yacht racing.
This year, cruiser owners were asked to pay a one-off extra £20 to cover the cost of a new mooring buoy as part of the increase in their fees. I sat and listened as our Treasurer went meticulously through the accounts then asked for the questions which I knew would inevitably come.
Sure enough, someone asked about the very modest rise in mooring costs. This person does not have the largest boat in the club, but it isn't the smallest either. Anyone who can afford a boat that size can easily afford the extra £20 for the new buoy, plus the few more pounds percentage increase and I was fuming as he whinged on about it. It was pointed out that club moorings are considerably cheaper than open-market conservancy moorings in Chichester Harbour, if indeed he could get one in such a convenient spot and that as the buoys were bulk purchased, he would have had to pay a lot more for such a good product if he had bought it himself.
Thinking about it afterwards, I drew a comparison between this sulky club member and Sir Fred Goodwin who is sitting pretty on a pension of nearly three quarters of a million pounds a year, having brought one of the country's major banks to near collapse. Sir Fred is waving a contract saying that he is legally entitled to this money and isn't giving any of it back or forgoing even part of it in the public interest. Less than one sixth of that sum would pay off my entire mortgage and he is getting that EVERY YEAR until he dies, potentially another 50 if he reaches his centenary.
He could have got the public back on his side by offering to invest some of it where it would serve the common good, like perhaps helping to fund a housing association for people who can't afford a mortgage even at today's low rates or to simply give some of it to charity. I have no doubt whatever that he has sat down with his accountant this and worked out ways to pay as little tax on his pension as he possibly can, so we shouldn't expect to get much back that way.
How do you feel Sir Fred when you see people in Zimbabwe picking up single grains of corn to eat because the greedy and tyrannical Robert Mugabe has demolished the entire agricultural output of his country.
How would you feel Sir Fred if someone who had lost their entire life savings in the crash of your bank came and banged on your door and asked for a sub? Or what if someone who had lost their home after being made redundant due to the RBS bank crash, parked their caravan on your well manicured lawn?
Comic Relief Day is on its way. Let's have a little less conspicuous greed and self-interest please.