October 16, 2020

To “continue to function as an organization,” RSPBA solicits 2021 memberships

The Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association has proactively asked bands to pay 2021 membership dues so that it can “continue to function as an organization,” according to a message posted on the association’s website. The association allegedly also sent an email to UK-based bands this week asking them directly to send in their dues before November.

“We hope that you understand the need to support your Association through the payment of these registration fees in order that we can continue to function as an organization, support and administer the membership of the bands and our volunteers, and prepare to run the five Major Championships in 2021 and beyond,” the website memo stated, bringing into question the association’s financial situation.

RSPBA Chairman John Hughes had not replied to a request for comment at publication time.

Hughes later on October 16th sent a message to the Lothian & Border Branch of the RSPBA, of which he is president, announcing that bands that are member of the branch will not have to pay additional fees, and their 2019/20 fees will carry over to 2020/21. UK-member bands must pay dues to both the headquarters and their branch, whereas most associations have a single payment, with the parent organizations splitting a share to each branch.

With the continuing coronavirus pandemic and rolling lockdowns occurring in the UK and most of the piping and drumming world, pipe band competition plans are in limbo for 2021. The five marquee championships that the RSPBA stages, along with membership dues, account for the vast majority of the association’s revenues.

The hundreds of UK pipe bands that comprise the RSPBA’s membership have been more or less on hiatus since March of this year, most trying to maintain interest with online meetings and chanter practices. A few have organized online solo competitions. But income for the majority of bands without sponsorships has been reduced to zero.

Membership dues to the RSPBA for a UK-based band range from £210 for adult bands to £190 for Novice Juvenile groups. Bands not based in the UK that wish to compete at an RSPBA event must pay a membership of £105, even though they would also have to be members of their home association. The RSPBA is believed to be the only pipe band association in the world that requires visiting bands to pay a membership. Total revenues in 2019 from band membership dues were about £66,000.

As a result of a £1,000,000-plus renovation of its Glasgow headquarters, the association’s finances have been under question for more than the last several years. The organization acknowledged that it took out loans and received grants to help with the situation. When COVID-19 effectively shut down the entire 2020 competition season, the RSPBA missed out on essential revenues that had been counting on to restore its finances.

RSPBA headquarters at 45 Washington Street, Glasgow.

The association revealed in its 2019 Financial Statement that there was an impairment loss of £585,553 applied to the headquarters’ value, which was assessed at only £500,000, even after the £1,00,000-plus renovation.

To pay for the renovation, the RSPBA bypassed its written policy at the time of maintaining a minimum cash balance of £261,009 at all times – the amount that the association identified to operate in a typical year.

“The brass neck of the directors to demand registration fees for the incoming year,” said one representative of an RSPBA member band who spoke on condition their name is not used. “Bands are not in a position to pay anything since there has been zero prize money and little opportunity to fundraise since this time last year. Bands aren’t even allowed to practice at present but they want us to plug the hole in ‘their’ finances. We didn’t get a say on how our money was spent over the last few seasons – £1.2 million on a building we’re not allowed to use without paying. The age old ‘we need to the money or the association will fold . . .’ doesn’t wash! Let it fold and perhaps a better one with proper governance and bands’ interests at the heart would come along.”

The Scottish Schools Piping & Drumming Trust has reportedly cancelled its highly successful annual spring competition that typically attracts dozens of school pipe bands. Hughes is a trustee with the non-profit organization, which promotes piping and drumming in Scotland’s school systems.

“At this point in time, we are still hopeful of a season of some sort next year, but at present we do not yet know what that will look like,” the RSPBA memo stated.

The RSPBA is also in the middle of searching for a new Chief Executive after incumbent Ian Embelton announced his retirement. Embelton had held the job, which pays around £50,000, since 2001. The association has furloughed its staff of five paid employees under the UK’s scheme. The RSPBA is one of very few pipe band associations globally that has any full- or even part-time paid staff.

Last year, the association asked officials to consider waiving their judging or stewarding fees to help offset costs. It also announced that bands would need to pay to use the renovated headquarters.

In August, the RSPBA asked member bands in Scotland to lobby elected officials to create an exemption to allow pipe bands to practice in-person. The Scottish government eventually replied saying that it was not currently possible.

The only pipe band rich countries with active in-person practices and competitions are New Zealand and parts of Australia. Both nations have had more success with dealing with COVID-19 than other countries where competing pipe bands operate in significant numbers.



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RSPBA financial statement raises more questions than answers
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