Sir, – I write regarding a recent letter to the editor entitled ‘The sorry state of RHASS finances?’

As chairman of RHASS through what has been one of, if not the, most turbulent of times in the society’s history, I would like to robustly respond to a number of points raised by Mr Strang in his letter.

Mr Strang asks about the level of the society’s borrowings and reserves. As we set out in the annual accounts over the last few years, RHASS has been pursuing a long-term £12m investment strategy which has transformed the showground into one of the best outdoor spaces in Scotland that is fit for purpose to host Scotland’s largest outdoor event, and RHASS’s flagship, the Royal Highland Show.

This investment had been delayed for good and prudent reasons whilst the spectre of airport expansion hung over RHASS. As Mr Strang will, I am sure, understand, that delay in infrastructure work caused further dilapidation of our underground services which, once the airport threat receded, was a priority action to address, albeit with significant additional cost caused by the delay.

Given the strength of RHASS's balance sheet, the board, over a number of years, took decisions to invest in the showground on the back of that strength, using the society's investments and consciously taking advantage of the record low rates of borrowing to secure a sustainable future by creating a strong foundation for the society to generate ongoing income, both through the show and through other uses on the showground.

In a normal year, the showground attracts over 1m visitors across hundreds of events and the RHC trading company pays a substantial fee to RHASS to reflect this. Where a charity, like RHASS, allows a trading subsidiary to use its resources to operate its business, the charity must be compensated appropriately for the use of that resource. In 2019, after that payment, a small deficit remained within the trading company.

The Royal Highland Show is put on each year by more than 650 staff, contractors and volunteers. All permanent RHASS staff, whether part of the dedicated show team or not, are heavily involved in staging the RHS with flexibility of roles being key.

The RHASS team is structured and has been recently restructured through significant redundancy, to enable the society to run the RHS and to service our membership, run our events business (RHC), undertake our charitable activities (governance), manage the estate (operations) and facilitate the running of the charity, with management, fundraising, marketing and accountancy support.

While our usual events business run through RHC had been decimated by cancellations due to the pandemic, the overwhelming message from our members, stakeholders and exhibitors is that we must stage the best 2021 Highland Show that we possibly can.

The show cannot happen without these aspects of the society and the team pulling together to ensure that it does. The salary line quoted in Mr Strang's letter covers salaries for permanent staff and includes the large number of temporary staff and contractors brought in specifically for the show.

It also covers payments to a historical pension scheme, long-since closed, but which the society is obliged to continue to fund. I trust that this addresses his comments by providing additional context.

Whilst on the matter of staffing, I want to pay tribute to the resilience of the team on the ground during what has been an extremely challenging time. What they have achieved during the last six months, including planning a 2021 show in the midst of such uncertainty and with a much-depleted team, has been nothing short of outstanding and is testament to the quality and dedication of the team we have at RHASS.

I am delighted that Mr Strang, as a life member of the society, has enjoyed more visits to the show than he cares to remember. He will have, therefore, received great value from his original investment.

Members are the lifeblood of the society and the new building, far from being a 'white elephant' as he suggested, was a much-needed replacement for the well-loved but ultimately worn out MacRobert Pavilion.

It was, sadly, not cost effective to continue to patch up the old pavilion, nor would it have been cost effective in the long run to continue to use temporary structures for each Royal Highland Show and hence the board of directors took the prudent and long term view to build a replacement.

As well as providing a home for our members during the show, the new building will also generate commercial income and provide a hub for Scottish agriculture to meet, learn and innovate. It is a fantastic space that will serve the society and its members well for the next generation and beyond.

In these dark days, we must believe and plan accordingly, that life will return to normal; that the RHS will return and members can continue to congregate in a space that will once again hold memories that will last a lifetime, as was very much the case with the MacRobert.

As chairman, I encourage all members to review our accounts – available on our website – and to come to the agm to exercise their role in the governance of the society. It is our members' right to ask difficult questions and we welcome them and encourage all members to keep asking them.

To address a further comment made by Mr Strang, at our last agm in June, 2020, we changed the historical position for senior membership and it now starts at 67 for both men and women, which is set out on the membership forms available on our website.

As chair of RHASS I am proud to lead this incredible charity in good times and in turbulent ones. It is my duty, and that of my fellow directors, to rise to the challenge currently facing us and take tough decisions – including painful cost-cutting ones – and be humble enough to ask for help from our membership when we need it, as all charities do.

Having previously mentioned staff resilience, I must also pay tribute to the incredible effort being made by the board of directors to navigate through this unpredictable and difficult time. Not one member of the board, or staff team nor, I suggest, anyone reading this letter, could have foreseen the events that have unfolded since the turn of the year and not one of us had the blueprint as to how to deal with it.

We have encountered a perfect storm with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic and we are doing all that we can to ensure that the show and society can weather this storm and move forward.

I believe that, contrary to views expressed either in print or by other methods, we are doing exactly that.

Finally, may I say to the thousands of members who have sent us messages of support and who have donated to RHASS in recent weeks, I am truly humbled by your generosity and the part you are playing in 'Saving your show' and your society for future generations to come. The passion we all feel for this society is inestimable.

It seems insufficient, but I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Bill Gray

RHASS chairman.