January 10, 2021

RSPBA refuses to disclose details of HQ renovation contracts

Despite a promise made to members over a year ago that it would disclose details of the tendering process for contractors for the £1.2-million renovation of its Glasgow headquarters, the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association has determined that the information is “commercial in confidence,” leaving its constituents in the dark about the process used for spending their money.

The RSPBA revealed the decision in the latter part of a precis report of its December 5th board of directors’ meeting, made public on Sunday, December 20th:

“[The RSPBA Northern Ireland branch] asked about a 2019 request for information to be provided . . . regarding the tenders received for the headquarters refurbishment was raised. The [board of directors] considered the content of these documents to be commercial in confidence. Pottie Wilson, the appointed Quantity Surveyor [based in Edinburgh], were responsible for running the tendering process and it was their responsibility to review the tenders received and make a recommendation to the Board of Directors. This topic was not raised at the [Northern Ireland branch] AGM but was raised at a previous Branch meeting.”

A second request for details and transparency was made at the November 30, 2019, annual general meeting of the RSPBA’s Northern Ireland branch held at Trinity Methodist Halls in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. The association’s executive officer, Ian Embelton, could not provide the tendering process’s details at the meeting but said that contract work was put out to tender. The organization received multiple bids for both the architectural and building stages. Embelton assured members that documents would be made available to them in January 2020.

45 Washington Street, pre-renovation.

The design contract was awarded to Assist Design Ltd. of Edinburgh. A director at the company is the pipe-major of a Grade 3A band that is a member of the Lothian & Borders Branch of the RSPBA.

The board of directors’ meeting minutes also state, “Work is underway with the architects on the building snagging prior to agreeing to settle the final retention payment. The cost of any outstanding work is to be obtained from the respective trades if we are to progress the repair on behalf of Central Building Contractors (Glasgow) Ltd.”

“Snagging” is Scottish building trade parlance end of contract work to address incomplete tasks or address defects that have arisen due to workmanship or settlement. Snagging work is typically included in the tendered costs, similar to an after-sales warranty.

Central Building Contractors went into “administration” in April 2020, effectively meaning the company is being taken under the management of a licensed insolvency practitioner administrator. Once a company enters administration, it is protected from creditors against legal action to recover outstanding debts.

Assuming that Central Building Contractors cannot complete the snagging work, the RSPBA would have to contract and pay others to complete the renovation.

The CBC’s website describes the RSPBA contract: “After a fire had severely damaged their main headquarters in 2017, the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association (RSPBA) called upon CBC to alter and refurbish their HQ, located on Washington Street Glasgow,” possibly inferring that there was no tendering process for its contract.

The RSPBA was expected to provide a complete report of the tendering process for the renovation at its 2020 annual general. The meeting, initially scheduled for March 2020, was postponed until June 2020 in an online-only format due to the coronavirus pandemic, with a limited number of member bands invited to attend. The matter reportedly was not addressed in any detail.

In February 2020, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, the non-ministerial department of the Scottish Government responsible for regulating charities in Scotland of which the RSPBA is one, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator recommended that the RSPBA improve its transparency to its members and the media. The recommendation was in response to an officially submitted concern.

RSPBA Chairman John Hughes has not responded to pipes|drums’ request for comment on the decision not to disclose details of the tendering process.

“All we have is one little news story that Hughes wrote last year trying to spin that it was a good thing. There wasn’t much meat in it. There are rightly questions about it, and a number of things are still unanswered.”

On January 2, 2020, Hughes published a public letter to the association’s members, saying, “45 Washington Street is YOUR Headquarters, YOUR building and I’m sure you will be delighted with the work that has been done.”

“There is an expectation that a charity operates correctly and above board, and concealing things like this makes people think there’s something to hide,” said a member of an RSPBA-member band who spoke on condition of anonymity. “If there isn’t, release the info and put it all to bed. If they even released anything around the entire HQ revamp, it would be a start, never mind ‘commercially sensitive’ documents. All we have is one little news story that Hughes wrote last year trying to spin that it was a good thing. There wasn’t much meat in it. There are rightly questions about it, and a number of things are still unanswered.”

The RSPBA’s financial situation, due to the disastrous confluence of the costly renovation, the coronavirus, and the complete cancellation of the 2020 pipe band season, has come under increased pressure and questions. The organization has reached out to judges, stewards and member bands to help them with finances, most recently asking that bands pay their customary 2021 membership dues, despite doubt remaining whether competitions will return this year.

The association’s publicly available list of bands that have so far paid 2021 dues indicates that about 170 of the 715 bands that have been members of the association have so far paid their dues. Eight of the bands that have paid 2021 dues are listed as international, paying £105 each, 27 Novice/Juvenile paying £228 each, and 137 comprise the balance paying £252 each. Bands paying dues after November 30th incurred a 20% late payment penalty, according to Rule 3.1 of the RSPBA’s standing orders, otherwise known as a rule book.

The total amount collected through membership dues would be approximately £41,500. The association has a written policy that cash reserves of at least £261,009, the amount it needs to run the organization for a year, must be maintained.

The association requires all of those on its board of directors to be registered members of paid-up member bands. The RSPBA lists several directors as members of bands that, according to the website, have not paid their 2021 fees. According to the published record, at least one director is attached to a band that has not been a paid-up member for at least two years.

The association reported in August 2020 that it wanted to add an official rule for a “competition allowance” for members of its board of directors for their participation in major championships, in addition to having their expenses covered for attending meetings. The RSPBA 2019 financial report states that directors were paid £7,050 “in relation to services provided as Championship officials.” The record financial report states that directors received a total of £11,015 to cover expenses for attending meetings.

Whether the “competition allowance” rule was officially approved at the 2020 annual general meeting is unknown. The organization also reported that £6,975 was paid in 2018 to directors for services provided at major championships.

In addition to expenses for judges (£51,016) and stewards (£21,281), a total of £63,024 was reported as being paid to “officials” for the five major pipe band championships and the World Solo Drumming Championships.

The 2019 Grade 1 World Pipe Band Champions received £1,200 for their success. The RSPBA is not known to have offered World Solo Drumming Championship competitors any prize money ever.



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