The viability of Scotland’s biggest agricultural organisation has been put into question by auditors following the cancellation of its flagship event due to Covid-19 restrictions.
The latest annual report for the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS) contains comments from EY over the impact of coronavirus on the society, which organises the four-day Royal Highland Show each year.
The auditors say “a material uncertainty exists that may cast significant doubt on the group or charity’s ability to continue as a going concern”.
RHASS chief executive Alan Laidlaw said the auditors’ comments related to the general economic uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and the lack of clarity on what the 2021 Royal Highland Show will look like or if it will go ahead.
“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 £4.5 million from the society’s income for this year and a further £2m from events income at the Royal Highland Centre.
“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,” added Mr Laidlaw. “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.”
He said swift decisions had been made to shore up the society and reduce costs. These include putting 65% of the society’s staff on the government’s furlough scheme, accessing grant support from the Scottish Government’s Pivotal Enterprise Resilience Fund, and securing a Covid Business Interruption Loan.
RHASS chairman Bill Gray added: “We are about to embark on a major fundraising drive, which will hopefully give us the lifeline we need to sustain the charity.”