AOP Annual General Meeting 2023

The Association’s annual report and accounts were approved for 2022

A wooden gavel decorated with the AOP logo of a blue circle rests on a table

The 2023 annual general meeting (AGM) of the Association of Optometrists was held at its London offices on 7 June.

The meeting was opened by the chairman, Professor Julie-Anne Little, who welcomed attendees to the AGM. Little asked members to approve the minutes of the AGM held last year (8 June 2022), and the minutes were approved unanimously and signed by the chairman.

The chairman asked the members at the meeting to stand as the AOP chief executive, Adam Sampson, read the roll of deceased members.

Roll of deceased members

  • Mr Brian Hitchin, Stone
  • Mrs Julie-Anne Corrigan, Woodhall Spa
  • Mr Paul McGinn, Motherwell
  • Mr Hugh Seymour, Seaford
  • Mr Samuel Barbour, Carrickfergus
  • Mr Harold Barnaby MBE, Lincoln
  • Mr William Bowyer, Bexhill on Sea
  • Miss Sylvia Dearing, Swadlincote
  • Mr David Goldman, London
  • Mr David Harrison, March
  • Mr Richard Hutchings, Ipswich
  • Mr R Macgregor, West Kilbride
  • Mr Terence Morgan, Stockton-on-Tees
  • Mr Robin Stuart, Washington
  • Mr R Thompson, Kettering
  • Mr David Wilson, Huddersfield.

Report from the chairman

In her final report, Little began by outlining how the last year had seen the AOP take a gradual return to office-based, hybrid working which had been facilitated by changes in the organisation’s IT system and a substantial refurbishment of the head office to encourage a more collaborative and informal working environment.

Hybrid changes “had proved popular with the staff,” Little said, adding that “the improved areas were useful for both staff and Council meetings.”

Little highlighted that “difficulties experienced by other organisations in recruiting and retaining staff had been avoided with these new working arrangements.”

Little explained that the AOP’s focus remained on member services and looking at the medium-term future of optometry. She shared that a strategic review of the AOP’s role and purpose had been undertaken, culminating in the introduction of a new five-year strategy.

“While building on its excellence in education, clinical advice and legal support, the strategy focused on broadening the AOP’s influence with policymakers and politicians in order to ensure the future of eye care, and to meet the challenges of rising clinical need and new technology,” Little shared.

Over the past 12 months, the Association had begun work on delivering its strategic aspiration, Little told attendees, “with the AOP playing an increasingly active role in the future of health care in general, and eye care in particular.”

Little highlighted that the AOP was a founder member of the successful The Eyes Have It coalition which had attracted some political attention to issues in the sector, while it had also helped to coordinate the response to the General Optical Council’s (GOC) call for evidence on reforms to the Opticians Act, which persuaded the GOC to adopt a positive evidence-based approach to any potential legislative reform.

In the last 12 months, the AOP has also continued to play a significant role in the Optometric Fees Negotiating Committee, particularly through the chair, Gordon Ilett, in negotiating the details of the GOS support payments, achieving a 2% increase in 2022 and a 4.5% increase in fees this year, Little shared.

Little reported that the AOP also began to undertake some of the longer-term policymaking required to inform decisions on the future of the profession, including, for example, modelling of the likely demand for optometrists over the next five years.

“Direct member services remain the key priority,” Little told attendees, explaining that its legal team had “continued to provide unrivalled support in areas such as employment, regulation and clinical negligence.” She highlighted that education and training programmes had expanded, with 20,000 sessions booked and a satisfaction rating of 95%, sharing that while the majority of events were held online, a limited number of face-to-face engagements had taken place, particularly in the first 100% Optical for two years which was well attended.

Optometry Today continued with six printed editions a year, with regular online activity and also hard copy supplements, Little highlighted.

Little shared that the AOP had continued its support of cross-sector organisations such as the LOC Support Unit (LOCSU) and Primary Eyecare Services, adding that recruitment for the new chair and a new CEO for LOCSU had been actively pursued.

On membership fees, Little emphasised that the steep rise in inflation at the end of 2022 had “led to some difficult decisions on members’ fees.”

“The direct cost to the organisation of the wage increases necessary to retain the current staff, and the continuing pressure on finances through insurance premiums and claims, as well as the requirement to increase the provision against future claims liability led to an increase of £15 on the membership fee. The rise in the cost of living had been borne in mind and this increase was significantly lower than the rate of inflation,” she explained.

There had been no change within the AOP’s executive team during the year, Little confirmed, before thanking Mike George, Gordon Ilett, Fatima Nawaz and Mike Fegan who were leaving the Board for their huge contribution to the work of the AOP. She also thanked councillors and committee members for their skills and insights which were crucial in helping the AOP respond to the many challenges in the sector.

Report from the financial director

In the absence of a chairman of finance, Wendy Andrusco, the AOP’s director of finance presented the report on his behalf.

In the report, the surplus of the AOP was reported to have decreased, which was attributed to higher direct professional services costs, staff and other operating charges, as well as a decline in the value of investments.

Andrusco confirmed that total income increased in the year, with membership subscription growing from 2021 due to higher fees as well as the retention of new members for the full year. She shared that members valued the membership package, and retention during the 2022 renewal period was just under 97%, while the qualified membership also grew by 1.3% in the year. Andrusco confirmed that other income also increased attributable to commercial and events activities, mainly due to the return of 100% Optical.

Andrusco reported that medical malpractice insurance costs had also increased. “The total cost of delivering the insurance programme contributed to the increase in direct professional services year on year,” she said.

Andrusco said that “while most efficiencies gained during 2020 had been maintained during 2021 and 2022, there had been a small increase in office expenditure due to the return to the office under a hybrid working model.” The increase reflected in the income statement in other operating charges was mainly due to the higher level of irrecoverable VAT, she said.

The AOP experienced a loss on the investment portfolio compared to a gain in the prior year, and there was a requirement under accounting standards to report the gain or loss in each reporting period. “However, the loss is not realised as the investments are still held, and the value could increase again in future periods,” Andrusco said. She added that there was a further requirement to show on the balance sheet that part of the office building which was let. This was reported as investment property, and the estimated value had not changed from the previous year.

Andrusco shared that the insurance provision outlined in Note 11 had increased in the year, confirming that provision was made in each financial period to ensure that claims liabilities which fell to the Association could be met in the future as medical-malpractice claims could take several years to develop and close.

Taking into account the surplus for the year, Andrusco reported that total reserves had increased from £6.7 million to £7.1 million. “Work would continue to gradually increase these reserves to meet the reserve target level, which is to cover three months operating costs to cover all potential liabilities under the insurance deductible, plus a strategic defence reserve which was a contingency for unforeseen events,” Andrusco explained. Although actual reserves at the end of the financial year totalled £7.1 million, this translated into available or liquid reserves of £2,428,000.

Andrusco concluded by confirming that the auditors had provided a clean audit opinion and concluded that the financial statements gave a true and fair view of the figures and results for the year. She added that they also confirmed the directors’ assessment that the AOP remained a going concern, and consequently the directors had approved the accounts and were happy to recommend these for approval by the members.

In a question from the floor, AOP member Paul Chapman-Hatchett asked Andrusco what the reserve target was, with her sharing that “the available or liquid reserves target figure was approximately £3 million available reserves, but this would fluctuate as the insurance part of that target changed year on year.”

Approval of accounts

The chairman moved the acceptance of the Annual Report and financial statements, which were approved unanimously. Little thanked the director of finance and Fegan for their work on the accounts, and AOP non-executive director, Andrew Herbert, was now confirmed as the association’s new chairman of finance.

Little moved the re-appointment of BDO LLP as the Association’s auditors, which approved unanimously.

In closing the meeting, Little thanked AOP councillors for their attendance. She also thanked outgoing councillors, Laura Josephs, Inderpal Ghuman, Kris Cottier, Stephanie Kearney, Fatima Nawaz and Jasmine Kaur Matharu, for their work and commitment.

In passing the chairman’s medal to the new chairman, Emma Spofforth, Little said that Spofforth had been a trusted colleague over many years and she was “delighted to be handing over to her.” Spofforth thanked Professor Little for her sound judgement and incredible grace over the past two very difficult years. She also thanked those councillors and Board members who were leaving, and for the current councillors for their support.