The usually cool-tempered Eric Galbraith is not amused over allegations that his commitment to Biba is waning. He tells Michael Faulkner that he is here to stay and explains his plans for regional communications and training

Eric Galbraith's normally composed demeanor is cracking. The smooth-talking Scot is becoming increasingly angry as he responds to rumours about his future that have been circulating since the Biba conference. Critics have questioned Galbraith's commitment to his role as chief executive of Biba. They say he is too commercially oriented to be head of a non-profit distributing organisation such as Biba, and suggest that he is looking for a more suitable role. Galbraith responds tersely: "Just look at what I'm doing, the way I'm doing it and what the plans are for the future. That should answer the question."By way of example, Galbraith highlights the work that he is doing to improve communications with members, particularly in the regions. "The strength of our membership is out in the regions and I want to make sure that they have the facilities to be able to grow and develop," he says.Looking more relaxed as he discusses his plans for Biba, he explains that the association is setting up regional web pages and will be publishing a regional handbook to allow people to understand how Biba works. "The handbook will allow new and younger members to feel more comfortable in coming into and operating within Biba regionally," he says. Training is also an important part of Galbraith's regional focus. "We've quite a large training programme at the moment. We've been running pilot programmes for the last six months with the CII to make sure training on-site in the regions is available."That's certainly an area which we will be looking at improving and working with the CII. And we'll make sure that our members have the right facilities to do that." Galbraith also talks about the schemes that Biba offers. "Right from the outset I've taken a fresh look at how we deal with schemes and facilities. I've refreshed some of them and I'm making sure that the service is right and that the products are right."Yet some brokers are becoming increasingly critical of the Biba schemes. One leading Biba broker says that he is frustrated that Biba is setting up schemes that are in direct competition with his own. Galbraith once again becomes agitated. "We don't operate on that basis, I certainly haven't had any indications from anyone that there are issues. "The schemes are there, first and foremost, to provide a service for the members. All [that broker] has to do is to speak to us and raise that issue with us as a member."There is also an undercurrent of opinion that Biba is becoming an increasingly commercially focused organisation, building up too much of a surplus of money through its schemes and membership subscriptions. Galbraith admits that he has joked about making Biba more profit driven, but he defends the need to make a certain level of surplus. "It must be large enough to deal with any contingencies that come up. We spent quite a lot of money on our submission to the FSA [on co-mingling] and that doesn't readily come out of members' fees. You have to have money in reserve."He will not be drawn on how much surplus he intends to make. "I don't believe it will be an issue when Biba's accounts are published at the annual meeting," he says. The future of the Biba conference has been a talking point since the conference in May. Many say that the format has to change and that the issue of a joint Biba-CII conference has started to raise its head again. CII vice president Bob Beckett is a keen advocate of such a move, and it is rumoured that Biba's insurer sponsors would like this too. Galbraith, however, is not impressed by these suggestions. "We will be announcing next year's dates for our conference, the Biba conference," he says. But would a joint conference be a beneficial move? Proponents argue that it would combine the technical aspects of the CII conference with the networking opportunities of the Biba conference. "I don't see anything wrong with it. There's no reason why it should not be discussed," admits Galbraith. "But I don't see Biba members giving up their conference lightly. I have not had a discussion with any of our partner members, nor have any of them raised the question with me."Nonetheless, Galbraith is keen to cooperate more closely with insurers. "If you don't have an open forum, then it makes it more difficult to communicate on any issue. We've had meetings together and we are happy to improve the position." N

Eric Galbraith on...

The softening market:"Our research with [accountant] Mazars shows it to be softening rapidly. I don't think that shows us in a very good light as an industry. It's something which is an industry problem."

The threat of insurers selling SME business direct:"All insurers would like to do more business with SMEs. We have challenges to our distribution. We've responded to those challenges, but we must not be complacent."

Working more closely with the ABI:"We have to have an open and frank dialogue with the ABI and maintain good relationships with it. We need to understand where we're both coming from and move forward."

The campaigning role of Biba:"We must have a strong voice with all of the industry bodies and with government. I regard Biba as the leading trade association and we have to make sure that we speak with one voice to all other bodies."