SRU PRESIDENT Ian Barr has assured clubs who have not yet managed to feedback on the most recent proposals for a new governance structure for the organisation that it is not too late, despite tomorrow [11th January] being the official deadline.
“We need the feedback because what we don’t want is a low number of clubs responding and SCOG [the Scottish Rugby Council’s Standing Committee on Governance] pushing on, spending time and resource to create a structure which folk can’t buy into,” he said.
“We have had a couple of challenges, with the escalation in Covid during the last month and a couple of IT issues with the SCOG email inbox, so what we’re saying is that as long as you get your feedback in by the end of next week then we will consider everything that comes to us.
“I know a lot of club committees are meeting this week for the first time since the consultation document went out [on 10th December], and my message to them is that it is not too late to have their say,” he stressed “We want to collate as much feedback as possible to come up with our final proposal, and at that point we plan to meet with as many clubs as we can through forums and roadshows, to make sure we are absolutely in-line with what the membership wants.
“We’re looking at an SGM by May at the latest, and to be transitioning in at the AGM in August 2022.”
The central thrust of the proposals is that the SRU Trust (set up in 1911 to hold the shares of the organisation on behalf of the clubs) and the SRU Council (elected by clubs to represent their views and oversee the work of the paid executives) both be dissolved, with a new parent company [NewCo] set up as the ultimate authority in the Scottish game. The Board of this company will be directly elected by member clubs.
Below this level, Scottish Rugby Union Limited [SRUL] will continue to run the business, with a Performance Rugby Board [PRB] and a Club Rugby Board [CRB] looking after those two branches of the game.
It is a complicated issue and Barr recognises that there is a sense of ‘governance fatigue’ after years of squabbling, but he has urged club members to seize this opportunity to reach a settled conclusion which will allow everyone to turn their attention instead towards growing the game.
“Over the years, things have been eroded or changed, so clubs are of a point of view that the Trust is outdated and the Council has become ineffective in its current form,” he said.
“From a SCOG point of view, the first thing we did was take legal advice on whether we can dissolve the Trust, and the answer came back that there is no issue with that. Given that, and combined with the comments around the Council being ineffective and cumbersome, we felt the best thing to do was morph the Trust and the Council together to form this new company limited by guarantee.
“We don’t envisage that being an operating company, it’s a parent company which holds the shares on behalf of member clubs, who are firmly at the top of the tree as owners of the Scottish Rugby Union. The NewCo will also carry out that oversight and accountability role of the SRUL which currently sits with the Council.
“We are very clear that SRUL, sitting below NewCo, will remain the day-to-day operating company of Scottish Rugby, responsible for all commercial activity, the international game, the professional game, the performance game and so on, as is the case now.”
“It is quite similar to the structure which Sir Bill Gammell and Norman Murray came up with, because that is recognised as one of the best ways for holding shares for companies. The key difference is how we appoint the NewCo Board, the Non-Executive Directors of the SRUL Board, and the members of the CRB, which will be done directly by the clubs.”
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One area Barr expects clubs to have strong views is with the make-up of the Club Rugby Board.
“We believe the best way to get that direct accountability for the club game is not to have people elected by league, but to break Scotland down into the established regions of North, Midlands, Glasgow North, Glasgow South, Edinburgh and the Borders, because the people within these different regions are in the best place to nominate the best people onto that CRB,” he explained.
“We envisage this being a more strategic group than we currently have with the Council,” he added. “As a group, SCOG talked long and hard about questions like: Should we have a women’s rep? Should we have a Premiership rep? Should we have a schools’ rep? But what we decided is that once you go down that route, you are putting certain groups into silos, and if you add in ‘youth’, ‘schools’, ‘men’s Premiership’, ‘women’s Premiership’, ‘men’s regional’, ‘women’s regional’, ‘referees’ and so on, then you are right back to a set-up very similar to the current Council, which is too unwieldy with too many views and opinions.
“So, what we’re looking for is for the clubs to really embrace this concept through their forums to ensure that all the various interest groups are attending and feeding into an elected individual with the ability to represent all those views, rather than each forum looking at their own priorities and perhaps struggling to see the wider picture.
“We’ve been criticised for not putting enough emphasis on the women’s game within CRB, but I would expect there to be appropriate representation at every regional forum. At the moment, we have one women’s rep responsible for every womens team in Scotland, and that’s not possible. What we want is for every rep to have a responsibility to the womens game, just as they have a responsibility to other areas of the game.
“Clubs may come back to us and say that they don’t like that at all, but as long as we’ve discussed the rationale behind it and reached that conclusion then I don’t see a problem there. The problem comes if they don’t come back to us on this, so we charge on, and we only start hearing about these reservations when it is too late. Nothing is locked in and nothing is off the table at this stage.”
This is an issue which has dragged on for far too long, and it needs to be resolved. Every club in Scotland has a duty to speak now or forever hold their peace – regardless of whether the feedback is positive, negative or indifferent. Apathy is the enemy of progress.