Board and Council statement aims to draw line under Keith Russell affair

But more detail required before this saga comes to an end

Mark Dodson
Mark Dodson has been at the centre of a storm these past few months, and today's joint statement from the Board and Council is not likely to be the end of the matter ***Image: Fotosport/David Gibson***

THE Board and the Council of the Scottish Rugby Union have attempted to draw a line under a summer of turmoil with a statement issued just after lunchtime today [Friday] dealing with the reviews instigated by the fall-out from the Keith Russell affair, but a lack of detail on key areas of concern and a failure to acknowledge individual responsibility means that growing scepticism within the rank and file of the club game is unlikely to be appeased.

The statement provides a summary of the findings of the review carried out by Lesley Thomson QC (a former Solicitor General for Scotland and current independent non-executive director on the SRU Board) into the scathing employment tribunal judgement delivered in early June 2018 which found that Russell had been unfairly dismissed as the SRU’s Director of Domestic Rugby the previous May, and of a separate review conducted by the Board in conjunction with external, independent experts into the use of settlement agreements by the organisation.

During the tribunal hearing, it was found that the SRU had withheld Russell’s statutory entitlement to notice and holiday pay whilst negotiating terms. Russell ultimately chose not to sign a deal which included a non-disclosure agreement and had his day in court instead.

Russell spoke after the tribunal judgement about what he saw as the callous approach of senior executives towards those they deemed to be getting in their way, highlighting a number of specific examples in the process.

Keith Russell: ‘The main thing Mark Dodson talked about for an hour was wanting to keep the Council quiet’

Keith Russell: ‘Understanding that the clubs are the key stakeholders in the sport in Scotland is a distraction that they would prefer to avoid’

Keith Russell: ‘It is so disappointing to realise that the guys at the top are not good guys and do not represent the values and culture of rugby’

The Board and Council stated soon afterwards that: “Further to recent comments made in the media in respect of the culture and staff at Scottish Rugby: these are characterisations that we as a Council and Board simply do not recognise or accept.”

Today’s joint statement made it clear that their position on this has not changed as there is no attempt made to address any of the points raised by Russell.

The statement also does not address the rewarding of a lucrative three-year contract extension to Chief Executive Mark Dodson (despite his previous deal still having two years to run) during the period between the end of the tribunal hearing and before the devastating judgement was delivered.

With regard to Thomson’s review, today’s joint statement said –

Both bodies have accepted the recommendations Ms Thomson has put forward and have committed to implementing changes in relevant operational areas and procedures within Scottish Rugby to reflect the recommendations.

These include:

  • Strengthening Human Resource capability and resource at a senior level to reflect the growing scope of Scottish Rugby as a diverse and complex organisation with multiple staffing needs and expanding legal responsibilities.
  • Recognition that settlement agreements are a legitimate facility which should be retained, but are not to be used as part of performance management procedures.
  • Any other use of settlement agreements to be in exceptional circumstances only, with advance approval of the Board’s Remuneration Committee and following ACAS codes of practice and guidance, if they are to be used.
  • An enhanced remit for the Remuneration Committee of the Board providing for:  (i) reporting to the Committee of performance management issues, (ii) Committee approval for any dismissals of any employee whose initial appointment was subject to Committee approval, and (iii) Committee approval in future of any request to use a settlement agreement.
  • A full endorsement of the decision to conduct a governance review, led by Independent Chair Gavin MacColl QC, to examine governance structures and ensure they are fit for purpose in a modern and transparent rugby environment.

With regard to the review into the used of confidentiality agreements, the statement said –

Following on from the commitment made at the AGM to examine the use of off-field settlement agreements, external experts PwC were commissioned to review the 14 off-field settlement agreements entered into since September 2011. They also met with a number of former employees as part of their work.

PwC’s review identified that there were various reasons for making the 14 Settlement Agreements. For a certain number of the Settlement Agreements reviewed, PWC considered that the documentation available did not make it immediately obvious why those Settlement Agreements were considered necessary.  Scottish Rugby provided additional context in this regard.

In relation to the content of the Settlement Agreements themselves, PwC considered them to be in line with what would be expected, such as evidence of independent legal advice received by the employee, evidenced by a solicitor’s certificate contained within each Agreement.

The Board also conducted additional checks on agreements entered into in the same period relating to the early termination of fixed term contracts of on-field non-playing staff, with similar conclusions reached and shared with the Council.

Any future use of settlement agreements will continue to be by exception and only with the prior approval of the Remuneration Committee of the Board.

Scottish Rugby Board and Council, after taking external, independent legal advice and in line with staff privacy policies and data protection legislation, have confirmed that no further information within Ms Thomson’s report can be made public.

Neither Colin Grassie, Chairman of the SRU Board, nor Dee Bradbury, the SRU President, were available to speak, but the statement did provide attributed quotes.

Grassie said –

I would like to thank Lesley Thomson QC for her exhaustive report which has helped us to reflect and work through issues raised by this recent sequence of events.

It is vital as an expanding organisation that we adopt the necessary learnings from this process to enable us to prepare for the next phase of our growth and increasing complexity in various aspects of the game. With the help of independent, external professional advisers we have reviewed relevant operational areas and recognised that improvements needed to be made.

Following a long and thorough exercise the Board remain clear about its role and having absorbed and acted upon lessons learned, will now move on.

The Board and Council reiterates its earlier position and the pride it has in the positive culture within Scottish Rugby.

Bradbury said –

This has been a very significant and useful exercise for us to go through and I am grateful to Lesley Thomson QC for the depth and quality of the review she submitted.

It is vital that Scottish Rugby continues to maintain high professional standards to support all areas of its business and the wider game across Scotland. The Review has enabled us to focus on areas where we can improve, as well as reviewing current practices.

This has been a disconcerting period for Scottish Rugby’s hard-working and talented staff and on behalf of the Council I would like to thank them for their continued support.

As Scottish Rugby grows the time is also right for the governance between Board and Council to be reviewed and updated where appropriate and I look forward to working with Gavin MacColl QC on this important piece of work in the coming months.

I would actively encourage all our clubs to participate fully in both the consultation process on issues related to player payment and league structures and in due course, the wider governance review.

Governance review

The statement also provided details on the progress of the review into the governance structure of the SRU which is going to be spearheaded by Gavin MacColl QC, the Independent Chair of the Council Standing Committee on Governance.

A small working group will be formed from stakeholders in the game, together with independent individuals with appropriate skills and experience, including governance matters. The detailed remit and membership of the group will be finalised in October 2018, with the group starting work formally shortly afterwards. The working group will operate on a “review and recommend” basis and report to both the Council and the Board.

“The review is intended to be wide ranging, taking account of views from within the organisation itself, clubs, stakeholders and other interested parties, as well as considering alternative corporate and governance models used elsewhere.  It is a necessarily longer-term exercise, though the intention is for updates on the Committee’s work to be provided on a regular basis,” said the statement.

“Details on how to contribute will be released in due course, after the group has been formally constituted.

Review of player payments and league structure

Following a briefing from MacColl, the Council and Board has also approved a programme for consultation with clubs on issues related to player payments and league structure, as discussed at August’s AGM, and taking account of the requirements of the Bye-Law changes introduced at the AGM.

The programme approved is as follows –

End September 2018 

  • Final submission date for club responses to player payment survey.
  • Formal communication from Gavin MacColl QC to member clubs updating on consultation programme and timeline.
  • Finalisation and distribution of 2019/20 Domestic League Structure Survey to clubs. Returns by end October 2018

October 2018 

  • Collation and analysis of Player Payment & Reward Survey results.

End-October to mid-November 2018 

  • Collation and analysis of 2019/20 Domestic League Structure Survey results

Mid-November to end-November 2018 

  • Governance Committee to formulate recommendations on options/proposals and consultation method/next steps.

6 & 13 December 2018 

  • Board Meeting and Council Meeting. Decision points on recommendations and next steps on any recommended options/proposals.

14 December 2018 to 10 January 2019 

  • Final consultation period with clubs on any recommended options/proposals (if required).

17 & 24 January 2019 

  • Council Meeting and Board Meeting.  Decision point on final proposal to put to clubs and any next steps.

Mid/end March 2019 

  • SGM to approve final proposal, if required.

David Johnston column: Reviews welcome but must deliver on NDAs and governance

About David Barnes 3816 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. Strengthening Human Resource capability and resource at a senior level to reflect the growing scope of Scottish Rugby as a diverse and complex organisation with multiple staffing needs and expanding legal responsibilities.

    So what does this mean? Speaking as an HR person it’s meaningless gobbledegook.

    It suggests that the current HR structure failed to stop the Russell affair. I would suggest that any right minded GR professional would have shown the options and risks of the possible courses of action. It would be for the Execs to chose which course they wanted to take.

    How would a strengthened HR resource and capability stop this? The only course of action would be to resign.

    Yes greater oversight from the Board and Council is appropriate for NDAs. But why weren’t they doing that already?

  2. This is a fudge. Lesley Thompson should be embarrassed at the quality of the outputs.

    The SRU is a £60m turnover organisation, it reports like a multinational! Time to get real.

    I think it’s time Colin Grassie stood down, he seems to be an advocate of the Theresa May school of leadership!


  3. This is a fudge. Lesley Thompson should be embarrassed at the quality of the outputs.

    The SRU is a £60m turnover organisation, it reports like a multinational! Time to get real.

    I think it’s time Colin Grassie stood down, he seems to be an advocate of the Theresa May school of leadership!


  4. I’m pleased it’s not the end of the matter as a man’s career was ruined by unfair dismissal and somebody has to be held responsible for this. I feel it probably also led to Glasgow losing one of the top players in Scotland following the way the SRU treated his father. This should not be swept under the carpet and statements coming from Murrayfield saying they’re drawing a line under it is unacceptable.

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