Sir, – I always enjoy reading Tom Best's monthly column in the Scottish Horse section of the Scottish Farmer. In last week's edition (November 21) he made some interesting observations on the running of the RHASS.

I have attended the Royal Highland Show for more years than I care to remember and, as a life member, have never thought it necessary to have sight of the audited accounts.

However, this year I requested a full set of the statutory accounts for 2019 prompted by the 'Save your show' appeal to members. An examination of this document makes sad reading for a society spanning three centuries.

As Tom observed, questions are being asked as to why a 235-year-old institution has not set aside sufficient funds to ward off all unseen dangers but, on the contrary, has large bank borrowings.

The total income of the society in 2019 was £9.01m, of which £4.82m came from running the Royal Highland Show. Income from the much vaunted Royal Highland Centre Events was £2.15m, but costs stood at £2.35m resulting in a deficit of £200k. This deficit contributed to the society's overall trading loss of £714k in 2019. I can only imagine what the deficit will be in 2020.

It is interesting to note that of the total number of staff employed at 48 (45 in 2018) which are split into five categories of activity, only 11 (12 in 2018) are allocated to show-related activities. This is the sole category showing a reduction in numbers, although it accounts for more than 50% of the society's income.

The remaining 37 staff (33 in 2018) are split over the other four categories of non show-related activities. The total salary bill of £1.95m equates to £40,670 per employee. I will leave others to make their own judgement on the payroll costs.

Tom also alluded to the high level of debt – which he observed his father would appropriately have described as 'enough to choke a coo'. The bank loans stood at £5.69m at the year end and there is a note to say that a further £1.99m was borrowed post the balance sheet date.

The total facility of £8m has subsequently been extended by a further £2.5m. Members may well ask how the society has managed to get itself into this spiralling debt position?

To add insult to injury, it is noted that listed investments, which had a market value of £276,000 at the balance sheet date, were sold in March, 2020, for £208,000, a loss of £68,000. This could be best described as a fire sale of society assets.

The funds spent on the replacement for the MacRobert Pavilion looks to me like a white elephant which will take years to pay back.

Although there are many other observations which could be made, I will conclude by focussing on subscriptions. The income from subscriptions is noted as £636k from a membership of 16,000. This equated to £39.75 per member.

As the main category of annual membership costs £75, one would expect a far higher figure for subscription income. The fact that it is not is, I assume, due to the unique policy of accounting for life subscriptions.

Rather than set up a life membership fund to service this category of member over their lifetime, the society recognises this source of income (currently £1500 for life membership) over a five-year period commencing from the year of receipt.

After five years of crediting £300 per annum to subscription income, in year six there is no fund left to service the member for the rest of their (hopefully long) lifetime. That's not a good accounting policy in my estimation.

While on this subject, I note that there is a reduced rate of subscription for those of pensionable age. This is defined on the membership application form as 65 for males and 60 for females. I am surprised that this type of sexual discrimination is still considered acceptable.

Steven Strang