September 05, 2020

RSPBA looking for leadership as Embelton retires

Ian Embelton

The Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association confirmed widespread speculation and is looking for a new executive officer after Ian Embelton announced that he will be retiring at the end of November.

A non-player, the 69-year-old Embelton was hired by the organization in 2001 to take on the often contentious role, which last year paid a salary of £50,404.

Under his watch, the RSPBA has seen the expansion of its five major championships and, in particular, the World’s, which before the COVID-19 crisis had become a multi-million-pound event for the city of Glasgow, the BBC, the RSPBA and other organizations involved. Over the last 20 years, the format of the World Championships has changed considerably, and will be under continued scrutiny for improvements when he moves into a temporary part-time role in retirement.

He is credited with facilitating closer ties with various organizations, including the National Piping Centre and the Piping Live! Glasgow International Festival of Piping.

More recently, Embelton was part of the £1.2-million renovation of the RSPBA’s 45 Washington Street, Glasgow headquarters, which followed a significant fire in the Victorian structure.

The executive officer role is typically awarded to someone with little or no pipe band experience. Among potential successors is the 70-year-old current chair of the organization’s board of directors, John Hughes. The executive officer reports to the board, and Embelton cited numerous times over the years the fact that he is unable to act without the approval of his directors.

Hughes recently created a stir when he requested that RSPBA member bands lobby their members of Scottish Parliament to give special dispensation to pipe bands as Scotland phases in post-lockdown policies.

“We need a business head in the chief executive position,” said an RSPBA insider who commented on condition his/her name is not used, “someone of a higher business calibre than the holders of our current official posts within the RSPBA boardroom.”

Embelton is one of five paid full- or part-time employees with the association, all of whom have been furloughed under the UK government’s scheme since April. The furlough period is set to end on October 31st, meaning that businesses and organizations will either have to pay returning staff or make them redundant.

The status of RSPBA’s finances have been under increased speculation. The association acknowledged at its June annual general meeting that it had received grants and bank loans to mitigate its economic downturn due to the cancellation of the 2020 competition season. Competitions and membership dues are by far the biggest revenue sources for the association.

The next three months will be critical. If 2021 competitions are still suspended due to the coronavirus, bands are less likely to pay membership dues, potentially leaving the organization in financial peril.

The organization’s greatest financial asset is its renovated headquarters, which in June had a third-party valuation of £500,000 – a significant impairment over the £1.2-million that was put into its renovation.

“This is the probably hardest salaried job in the piping and drumming world,” said another pipe band insider who spoke on condition of anonymity. “That Ian Embelton hung on to it for almost 20 years is truly astonishing and a credit to his tenacity as a leader.”

Pipe Bands Australia recently announced the resignation of its president, Chris Earl, who lost a non-confidence vote at a recent board meeting.



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