October 26, 2019

Opinion: A call for RSPBA transparency

Editor’s note: Over the last 35 years, pipes|drums has tackled myriad previously taboo issues in the piping and drumming world. Rather than sweeping important matters under the carpet, we believe that only by asking questions, debating perceptions and realities, and confronting tough topics will the piping and drumming world progress and improve.

We have always welcomed the fair opinions of our thousands of readers through formal articles and comments, and that stance will continue to be a core tenet of the publication. We are independent, and averse to being influenced by any association or individual. We sell nothing but the subscriptions and advertising that allow us to bring you quality original content.

The opinions that we publish are not necessarily those of pipes|drums. They are presented to stimulate constructive dialog and debate, to ask questions, to seek answers. We are unafraid of any competition or political repercussions. If some can’t handle opinions contrary to their own, or feel that their self-serving interests are threatened, so be it. 

We are delighted when readers approach us with editorial ideas and even more when they offer to contribute, and such was the case when veteran pipe band drummer Scott Currie offered and provided us with the following piece. We hope that it creates pause for thought, constructive dialog and eventual improvements.

As always, your opinions are welcomed.

Opinion: A call for RSPBA transparency

By Scott Currie

In a pastime where results mean everything, and when judges are perceived to get it wrong or a compiler makes a mistake, it’s the end of the world in an instant for those on the receiving end. Yet these anomalies that we are by now well-accustomed to on the field pale into insignificance in comparison with what has been revealed to have been going on off the field behind closed doors.

If what has played out in the last week isn’t the biggest scandal we’ve ever witnessed in the pipe band movement, then I don’t know what is.

Change the letters in RSPBA to OXFAM and just imagine the level of anger that would have erupted had the organization’s board taken it upon themselves to splurge all of the available funds on a lavish building refurbishment project for themselves before asking others to cough up for the shortfall caused by their pursuit of a luxurious new home.

Just take a few moments to let that sink in. This money was taken and spent in your name, and there are no excuses for the apparent dire situation that they now find themselves in.

For a lesson in sound governance, business acumen and securing best value for your charity, all you have to do is compare and contrast the RSPBA’s mind-boggling £1,000,000+ refit of a dilapidated, fire-damaged building that is not fit for the purpose intended, to the National Piping Centre’s recent acquisition of the College of Piping, a modern, purpose-built location in move-in condition with adequate staff parking, retail, office, museum, teaching and performance space that would have been perfect for the RSPBA to relocate to. Why was this opportunity missed?

This obscenity of £1,000,000 earned from years of austerity squandered in the blink of an eye in a selfish executive-led vanity project, has descended into a humiliating farce in the form of reportedly shaking down judges and branches for handouts. It’s an affront to the thousands of us in pipe bands who give and have given everything towards keeping our bands afloat, to then pay the organization for the privilege of performing at their events for negligible returns in terms of prize money, and with no other recompense, subsidy or support.

Documents reveal that the organization appears to have been aware as early as March of this year that financial difficulty lay ahead, yet the full extent of this has only become public this week due to external media and social media interest. This being so, how much RSPBA funds have been spent on travel, expensive hotels, food and refreshments for officials and dignitaries since this discovery, and did any of the beneficiaries on the executive pay back these expenses before the judges were asked to donate back their fees last weekend?

After such a prolonged period of hoarding funds, the organization should have been financially set for the foreseeable future and the renovation mortgaged at a commensurate level offset by the annual revenue. Had they done so, they would have had the “£150,000 to fit the rooms out to the highest specifications” available to spend and there would be hundreds of thousands of pounds left in the bank. Was this never considered? The members deserve to know.

Incidentally, they have just this morning clarified on their Facebook page that “The original £1m is being used on the building. The extra is to fit out all the new rooms we now have for all the extra furniture we need.” £150,000 for furniture. That’s around the average price of an entire family home in Glasgow in 2018. £150,000 that they don’t have. Are they intending on buying 19th-century antique chaise longues and Chesterfields at auction or clearing out Ikea?

The organization has had a widely known poor track record when it comes to handling approaches for transparency, and their response to serious questions this week is nothing short of unprecedented for all the wrong reasons.

Moving on to the fallout. The organization has had a widely known poor track record when it comes to handling approaches for transparency, and their response to serious questions this week is nothing short of unprecedented for all the wrong reasons.

Instead of embracing pipes|drums’ invitation and responding responsibly, they chose a softball route that has backfired. From the blatant omissions in the propaganda wing media, the statement from the Chief Executive that is at odds with documentary evidence, and the announcement that they need an additional £150,000 to buy nothing less than the very best to kit out their opulently renovated building that is too small to swing a cat in let alone host a full band practice, their half-baked attempted smokescreen this week has been nothing short of cringe-inducing PR disaster that should be held up as an example of how never to conduct a damage limitation exercise.

Those responsible for this mess are mere ships in the night. They’re short-term custodians of the organisation, entrusted by the members with the governance of keeping operations, activities and finances on a safe and sustainable path, and upholding the stability that they inherited from their predecessors. How can this board-sanctioned extravagant waste be in any way considered safe, sustainable or responsible for the future stability of the organization and its core activities?

Serious questions surrounding the current state of finances, governance and propriety of the expenditure on this project, the processes involved in the appointment of the contractor, and whether or not any relationship existed between any individual in the organization and the contractor remain unanswered. Having had the opportunity this week to address them and failing to do so, it’s becoming apparent that perhaps there are many aspects of this project that they don’t want the members to find out.

What are they hiding?

Does nobody on the executive or board of directors have the courage to break ranks and come clean to the membership? Anyone . . . ?

Does nobody on the executive or board of directors have the courage to break ranks and come clean to the membership? Anyone . . . ?

That’s probably a stretch too far. Anyone opposed to what has happened would have already resigned, which makes apparent that they all think what they’ve done is fine.

Time is of the essence and the obfuscation and spin must end now. If they won’t address this situation with anything less than the immediate full transparency that it deserves, then the time has come for the membership in the branches to seek the removal of the current board of directors, call in external agencies to investigate, audit and report to the membership on this matter, and appoint a new, highly-vetted board of directors who will behave transparently, prudently and place the core business of the organisation and the interests of the members ahead of the wants and needs of the establishment subject to annual re-election and term limits.

If you love what you do, want it to have a future for others to enjoy and believe it’s worth fighting to protect, then now is the time to step up and take it back and fix it.

No more “let them eat cake.” The members have had more than they can chew.

Scott Currie is a four-time World Pipe Band Championship-winning drummer, now retired following a 30-year competitive career between 1987 and 2016. He lives in Uddingston, Scotland.

Editor’s note: RSPBA Chief Executive Ian Embelton was invited to provide the RSPBA’s perspective on this matter, but at publication time no response had been received.



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  1. Well thought out article Scott and brilliantly articulated. Well done. The problem is that the general pipe band populace need to be brave, to stand together and work to do whatever it takes to remove the current leadership structure of the RSPBA. I honestly cannot see that happening. No one normally is prepared to put their head above the parapet to affect change.



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