February 05, 2020

Scottish Charity Regulator confirms again that next steps on RSPBA matter still to be determined

Despite continued statements and strong inferences made by the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association and the paid editor of the organization’s media outlet, an inquiry by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) into the association’s dealing over the recent and ongoing £1-million-plus renovation of its Glasgow headquarters is still very much pending a review decision.

According to Ian Grieve, Communications Director for the OSCR, on February 5th, “We are still gathering and assessing further information to allow us to determine our next steps.”

Grieve’s comment was in response to pipes|drums’ request for an update on the matter.

The confirmation that a formal investigation is still pending continues to contradict the conclusion by the RSPBA that “there is no formal inquiry into the RSPBA,” and repeated inferences that the matter is closed.

When asked how much longer the OSCR’s assessment of the matter might take, Grieve declined to comment. He also would not comment on whether public statements by the RSPBA and its associates inferring that the case is essentially closed might impact their decision whether or not to move ahead with a formal inquiry.

An invitation by pipes|drums to RSPBA Chief Executive Ian Embelton to provide his organization’s perspective has so far gone unanswered.

The renovation is believed to be the most expensive project of its kind in history for a piping and drumming association.

The OSCR’s initial queries to the RSPBA regarding the renovation were prompted by concerns raised to the regulator about an apparent lack of transparency regarding the project.

The OSCR had previously said that the investigation process can take weeks or even months before a decision on a more detailed inquiry is made.

Despite a request from at least one RSPBA member band to provide more clarity by making documentation on the request for proposals, tendering and contracts readily available, and Embelton making a verbal commitment to do so on November 30th at the annual general meeting of the association’s Northern Ireland branch, no further details have been made available.

The Victorian-era RSPBA headquarters at 45 Washington Street, Glasgow, pre-renovation.

Much of the concern has been focused on the architect portion of the project. The architectural aspect of the job was awarded to a firm with a director who is also the pipe-major of a band that is a member of the RSPBA’s Lothian & Borders branch. The association’s Chairman, John Hughes, is a member of the same branch. Questions have been raised as to whether the architectural work was put out to tender or awarded with no other bids for the work. It is not known if a tender process is required by the OSCR.

The RSPBA has said that the renovation project was appropriately approved by its membership, while others have contested that the approval was by only a handful of band representatives present at a meeting. The RSPBA allows only one vote per band, with only the band’s designated secretary attending a meeting able to cast its vote. With the organization’s annual general meetings always held in Glasgow, attendance by far-flung bands, especially those based in Northern Ireland, is typically relatively scant.

The RSPBA requires non-UK bands to become paid members of the association when they compete at their competitions. Despite being members, “overseas” bands are not allowed to vote.

While the renovation has been lauded by several RSPBA executives, administrators and judges, others have criticized the project, particularly because the facilities will rarely or never be used by bands outside of the Glasgow area, and that the money might have been used more judiciously.

One member of an RSPBA member-band said, on condition of anonymity, “£1-million could have outfitted 100 bands with a complete set of new chanters or drums, or compensated 100 piping and drumming teachers around the UK £10,000 each, or just give £5,000 to almost every member band. Sort of puts this in perspective. That said, I’ll still be proud of the headquarters if and when I have a chance to visit.”

RSPBA judge and BBC World’s broadcast host Bob Worrall of Ontario praised the project on Facebook, saying, “Wow! Had a great tour today of the renovated RSPBA headquarters . . . Impressive from so many standpoints. Great new teaching facilities plus much, much more.”

Five full-time employees, including Embelton, work from the large Victorian-era building at 45 Washington Street, Glasgow.

The OSCR is a non-ministerial office and part of the Scottish Administration following commencement of the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005. It is the independent regulator and registrar for more than 24,000 Scottish charities, including the RSPBA.

Scottish charities must adhere to stringent guidelines in order to retain charitable status.



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