January 19, 2020

Daily Record reports RSPBA investigation by Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator

According to a story in the Daily Record, the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association is being investigated by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) – a non-ministerial department of the Scottish Government with responsibility for the regulation of more than 24,000 charities in Scotland – over its use of funds for the renovation of the association’s 45 Washington Street, Glasgow, headquarters.

The Daily Record articles stated, “The OSCR probe is believed to be examining if the charity broke its own rules by dipping into its protected savings for the work.”

RSPBA Chairman John Hughes said on social media that “there is no OSCR investigation.” He later deleted his comments, but screenshots of his discourse with a concerned RSPBA member indicated his stance on the matter.

When the member suggested that the money for the renovation might have been better used for bands and prize money, Hughes wrote, “We know from experience that prize money us [sic] not the key driver for band’s. [sic] We have contests which are well attended which have minimal or in some cases no prize money.”

Hughes could have been referring to the World Pipe Band Championships and its £1500 for the Grade 1 winner, and the World Solo Drumming Championship, which offers a total prize pool of zero.

Before deleting his comments, Hughes wrote about his own comments: “This post was made by me as an individual and on a personal basis and nothing to do with my RSPBA position, and used information in the public domain . . . damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

The association has in the recent past suspended members for expressing opinions on social media. At least one member was banned last year for expressing opinions on Facebook about drumming judging after a competition, which he contended cost his band a Champion of Champions award.

The Daily Record article also said, “There are also complaints that some of the building work was given to friends of people who run the RSPBA and it failed to tender for the cheapest deal.”

The article added that RSPBA Executive Officer Ian Embelton “was unaware of the OSCR probe. He denied any wrongdoing and said the £1million refurbishment had been talked about since 2016.”

The RSPBA’s Lothian & Borders branch posted a comment on its Facebook page, which is allegedly administered by Hughes, reading, “Morning folks, another ridiculous article criticising the RSPBA published in the Scottish press. This one looks to have been fed by people outside the organisation looking for visibility for their own good. Happy to answer any questions at the Branch meeting on 26th January at 6pm in Bellsquarry Hall. There is nothing to hide . . . ”

Pointed questions were asked of Embelton at the November 30, 2019, annual general meeting of the association’s Northern Ireland branch.

Among the queries raised at the meeting was whether the architectural planning of the renovation, which was awarded to a firm in Edinburgh with a director who is the pipe-major of a band that belongs to the RSPBA’s Lothian & Borders branch, was put to tender or unilaterally awarded.

In a heated exchange at the meeting, Embelton made a commitment to provide details of the project, saying that the process would take approximately one month. The association has so far not produced any documents.

The Times also published a story on the RSPBA matter, saying, “Mr. Embelton has admitted that finances were now ‘a bit tight’ and that the RSPBA had secured a loan to see it through this year. However, he added: ‘We are in a healthy position and there is no crisis. Some people think the money should be shared around. But our reserves, which have been built up over 19 years, were in place to fund the HQ. If we did not do that, we would lose the building.’ ”

The RSPBA Glasgow headquarters reportedly house office space for five RSPBA employees, and the renovation is said to include teaching and practice facilities for members. Among the concerns raised at the RSPBA Northern Ireland branch meeting were that the facilities are of little direct use to members from outside Glasgow.

pipes|drums editor Andrew Berthoff was contacted by both reporters, and provided his on-the-record perspective on the problem. He chalked up most of the controversy to a lack of clarity and transparency with members and his own publication.

“The RSPBA is the world’s best pipe band competition-running machine, but probably the world’s worst pipe band communicator,” Berthoff was quoted in The Times article as saying.

Winston Pollock, who served the association as a judge and teacher for more than 34 years, recently wrote passionately about the RSPBA’s issues in a pipes|drums article. Pollock was reportedly suspended for looking into a video camera while judging a competition, but he resigned outright making the suspension moot.

Sixteen-time World Solo Drumming Champion Jim Kilpatrick was suspended by the RSPBA in the middle of the 2012 competition season for making critical comments about judging.

The organization cancelled the membership of Mervyn Herron, who had served the RSPBA for more than three decades, allegedly in part for supporting the ill-fated “Spring Gatherin'” initiative that wanted to organize more creative pipe band competitions. RSPBA member bands were reportedly threatened with suspension if they participated in the event. The Spring Gatherin’ eventually collapsed.

Herron was awarded an MBE for his services to piping and drumming in the 2018 Queen’s New Year’s Honours.

“The RSPBA Chairman’s online behaviour today is making a mockery of the position and the organisation in the face of what appears to be a very serious matter,” said Scott Currie, an accomplished pipe band drummer who has been vocal about his perception of the RSPBA’s behaviour. “Denying verified facts and mudslinging isn’t working. The most ‘ridiculous’ story being pushed today is that there is ‘nothing to hide’ while simultaneously withholding information that members have made reasonable requests through official channels to be disclosed.”

The RSPBA routinely does not respond to questions from pipes|drums, which seeks various perspectives for news stories.

Embelton was asked by pipes|drums for his further perspective on the matter, but at publication time there was no response.

The Times article included their own experience with the association’s lack of response: “The RSPBA has refused to comment on any of the allegations.”



Opinion – RSPBA Management Concerns: is the current Management Structure of the RSPBA out of date?
January 14, 2020


After five weeks, RSPBA yet to produce documentation on building project
January 8, 2020


Average World’s prize money increases by £83 for bands that make the list

RSPBA faces difficult questions at Northern Ireland branch AGM
December 1, 2019


Opinion: A call for RSPBA transparency
October 26, 2019


Opinion: Clean Break – a call for change – Part 1
May 28, 2019


Opinion: Clean Break – a call for change – Part 2
May 29, 2019


Fire at RSPBA headquarters under control
March 10, 2017


World Solo Drumming judges asked to work for free
October 22, 2019


RSPBA suspends Kilpatrick for three months for Facebook comment
August 31, 2012


Opinion: Our social media problem
October 8, 2019


World associations in suspense over bans
December 6, 2016


City of Whitehorse breaks down
November 28, 2016


Clan Gregor Pipe-Major suspended for four months
March 31, 2006


  1. Monday 20th January 2020 – Another sad day for pipe bands!

    Yesterday the Sunday Mail ran a story stating that OSCR (Charity regulator) was investigating the RSPBA. In the article Chief Exec I. Embleton denied any knowledge of the investigation. Pipes Drums online magazine reports “RSPBA Chairman John Hughes said on social media that “there is no OSCR investigation.” Today the well respected broadsheet “The Times” also reports that OSCR are investigating (see link)

    Who is telling lies the RSPBA officials, The Newspapers or the Charity Regulator OSCR?
    It’s a simple question, deserving of a straight answer!…/bagpiping-charity-investigated…#



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