Despite an annual income of more than £9million, huge question marks surround the future of the Royal Highland Agricultural Society and it's flotilla leader, the Royal Highland Show.

Last year's esteemed four-day event at Ingliston not only attracted a record breaking attendance of 195,400, it also secured an amazing £4.82m for the society. Add to that a £2.15m income from some 200 other centre events and £2.04m from land assets, membership and investments, and the RHASS yielded a total income of £9.01m.

However, with expenditure totalling £9.75m in 2019 and the cancellation of all such events at Ingliston to date as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, in its latest annual report on the society's finances, auditor Ernst and Young have warned: “... there remains a material uncertainty related to the impact of Covid-19 which may cast significant doubt on the group or charity’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

According to RHASS chief executive Alan Laidlaw, the comments were based on the huge uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and whether a 2021 Royal Highland Show would be able to go ahead and if so, in what format when social distancing is key to reducing the spread of the virus.

“We cannot shy away from the fact that we are facing a very uncertain future with challenges posed by the global coronavirus pandemic,” said Mr Laidlaw.

He said the cancellation of the 2020 Royal Highland Show wiped £4.5m from the society’s income along with another £2m from other such centre events.

“It will be some time before we will see mass gatherings taking place again so this reduction in income is likely to be sustained well into next year,” he added. “This undoubtedly puts the charity under significant financial strain and, while we are working on ways to mitigate this, it is a large gap to fill.”

To reduce costs, Mr Laidlaw said that 30+ of the society's 50+ full-time members of staff had been put on the government's furlough scheme, which will be used as long as possible. In addition, grant money has been accessed from the Scottish Government’s Pivotal Enterprise Resilience Fund, whilst a Covid Business Interruption Loan had also been secured.

RHASS chairman Bill Gray said Covid-19 had taken the gloss off last year's record-breaking show and the completion of the £5.4m events and members facility. The society, he said, was having to take on a completely different world in which it would remain focused on its charitable status, in particular, RSABI, RHET and SAYFC.

“There is no doubt that RHASS was on a solid financial position achieved by the robust management of our assets," said Mr Gray. "However, the pandemic could not come at a worse time as we were about to launch our new events space, host the Royal Highland Show – the Society’s biggest income generator – and enter into our busiest time for our events business, the Royal Highland Centre.

“Overnight we saw over £6m wiped from our income sheet and this will take time, hard work and support from the industry to bounce back from. We are about to embark on a major fundraising drive which will hopefully give us the lifeline we need sustain the charity.”

Mr Gray added that he had been hugely humbled by the level of support from the membership. Looking towards next Royal Highland Show, he said the 2020 presidential team would roll over to 2021 and that all one-year directors would continue for another year.

Hence, following this year’s cancellation, Dumfries and Galloway and its famous Belted Galloway cows will take centre stage as the host region of next year's show, which is due to take place June 17 to 20. Broadcaster and Lord Lieutenant of Dumfries, Fiona Armstrong, welcomed the news as RHASS honorary president.

“We would like to thank the RHASS for their generosity in allowing this to happen. A chance like only comes around every eight years," she said. “We had ambitious plans to highlight the region and it would have been a great shame if those had come to nothing.

“This year’s show was a ‘virtual’ one – and very successful. Next year’s will hopefully be the real deal allowing us to showcase D and G as a place of excellence for its food, farming, coast, countryside, art, culture, heritage and tourism.

“And we are looking forward to the region’s much-loved Belties having a starring role.”

The presidential team includes vice presidents all of whom have business and farming experience in the region – Alasdair Houston, Alistair Marshall, Hugh Ramsay and Percy Weatherall. They are supported by RHASS regional directors: Ian Beck, Matthew Currie, James Dunlop, Jim Hastings, Heather Wildman and Liz Vance, with John Mackie and Lorraine Mair, whilst Alex Cairns is chaplain.

In the year to November 30, 2019, the RHASS reported £4.15m invested in the Royal Highland Centre including the completion of the £5.4m events and members’ facility

• 9% increase in awards and bursaries awarded totalling £340,000 (£312,000 2018) • £9.01m (2018: £9.60m) income

• Net assets down 2.4% to £20.8m (2018: £21.3m)

• 1.3 % increase in revenue generated by The Royal Highland Show, delivering a sixth consecutive record-breaking year, £4.82m (2017: £4.76m)

• Trading income, generated by RHASS’ wholly owned subsidiary, Highland Centre Ltd, increased 30% on 2018 to £2.15m

• Net operating deficit (£713,000) (2018: £618,000 surplus)

• £636,000 generated through membership, 8% increase on 2018