Anyone who doubts how hard life is for agricultural shows at the moment should read the annual report of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS).
The cancellation of the 2020 Royal Highland Show and all other events at the Royal Highland Centre has not only led to a £6m reduction in income but also an auditor’s warning in the annual accounts.
Speaking to the agricultural press this week (Monday) RHASS chief executive Alan Laidlaw said: “We made a lot of progress in the year to the end of November 2019 but looking through the lens of Covid-19 it seems a lifetime ago.
“Our major new investment in the replacement for the MacRobert Pavilion was finished on time and on budget but when we received the keys in May the first thing we had to do was lock the doors and mothball the building.
“It should have been used for the Highland Show and a host of other events but that was not to be.”
The new building was only part of a hefty investment programme running over several years.
This resulted - despite a record breaking Highland Show attendance of over 195,000 - in a deficit of £700,000 in 2019.
Although budgeted for with Board approval this has come at an unfortunate time despite net assets remaining at over £20m.
The auditors notes to the accounts, added in May, six months after the end of the financial year and in the midst of the pandemic warned that the change in fortunes ‘causes material uncertainty’ about the charity’s ability to carry on as a going concern.
The cautionary remarks were however made before agreement of a new £2.5m facility with RBS, a 12 month moratorium on the capital element of loan repayments and an application to the government’s Enterprise Resilience Fund.
RHASS chairman Bill Gray said: “The directors have concluded that RHASS is a sustainable and viable business.
“Of course it was very upsetting to have to call off the 2020 Highland Show but compared to all the human health issues of the pandemic we have to keep it in proportion. We will stay focussed on our charitable remit and together we will come through this.”
To add to the uncertainty there is no guarantee that the 2021 Royal Highland Show will be able to run along normal lines.
Mr Gray added: “We just do not know what restrictions will be in place by that time.
“It is unlikely that we will be able to have nearly 200,000 people on the site over four days but we will have to see what we can offer.
“There is a real determination to have a show but we may have to modify what we do for instance by restricting the number of people who can attend each day.”
About 30 members of Royal Highland staff, 65 per cent of the total complement, are currently on furlough.
Chief executive Alan Laidlaw said he would use the scheme for as long as it was available.